When the COVID-19 pandemic reached our shores and triggered restrictions, Kyla Kirkpatrick says she was hardly jumping for joy. With the events arm of her business shut, she redirected her efforts with surprising results.
While you would not expect business owners to openly embrace the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown and economic disruption, in a strange way the situation has been a great teacher. I’ve learnt so much about my business in the last few weeks that I’m wondering how I can continue to gain insights without an incident the size of a pandemic on my doorstep.
Essentially, a disruption of this nature forces you to look carefully at your operations, encourages you to look at the threats and opportunities of the new paradigm and helps you re-examine the very reasons why you do what you do.
I run two related champagne businesses. As The Champagne Dame, I offer tastings and masterclasses; Emperor Champagne is the retail arm. Due to the shutdown, The Champagne Dame had to cease its events, which meant I turned my full attention to Emperor. I set up Emperor – the import, supply and national ecommerce retailer of Champagne – a couple of years ago and it has been growing nicely since, but as the champagne expert, I also spend a great deal of time as the face on the events and presenting side.
All that changed when a lockdown meant my undivided focus became Emperor. Prior to this, I didn’t have the headspace to look at the minutiae as I was often on the road fronting the events. Over the past two months, I’ve spent more time in the office and warehouse than I have since we set up here, and that has meant getting to know every little part of my business, from data analytics and online marketing, to evaluating delivery services and driving a forklift.
Tighten your processes
Under the context of economic disruption, I chose to revise our operations and eliminate any slack in our processes. Where we could save time or money without compromising quality, we tightened up.
An example of this is with our warehouse teams. I looked at how we were doing our picking and packing, including the speed of my staff, their efficiency and effectiveness. We now process orders one at a time instead of in batches to make sure there are no errors. I’ve also restructured the teams to make sure they comprise staff whose capacities are more compatible, which has resulted in getting more done in fewer hours with fewer people. That has increased operational efficiency and reduced the cost base of the business, which means I can keep team members employed.
Try new things
The other thing about the business environment in a pandemic is that people are a lot more forgiving of mistakes when you try new things, which is to say it’s a good time to succeed – or fail – the key is to try.
From the minute the crisis hit, we had a strategy board up talking about risk mitigation and additional revenue streams, asking: how do we pivot? What do we introduce? Where do we focus? That has been incredibly successful for us because we identified opportunities that were previously lower priority, such as our gifting range, and increased our offering. Hampers, including our quarantine-themed hamper, became a popular purchase and our gifting went through the roof!
We also launched same-day delivery to parts of Victoria in response to customer demand. Taking the time to listen to our customers and innovate and adapt ways to serve them has been one of the up sides to the pandemic and speaks to the beauty of having an agile team.
Interestingly, I’ve noticed that other businesses were slow to act – some people still haven’t acted, preferring to stay in stage one, denial. This is a time where you really need to pivot, re-engineer, reinvent yourself and go for it – fast! You can’t navigate the waters of business during a crisis if you pretend risk doesn’t exist.
Renew your purpose
Lastly, an interesting side effect of the pandemic is how much it has reminded me about why I started the business and has renewed the love and purpose that drives me.
A luxury business like mine is not ‘essential’ by any means, but what a bottle of champagne does is remind people of what’s worth celebrating. It’s a ‘thank you’ from a boss to their team members so they can share virtual drinks, it’s an acknowledgement of a milestone at a time when friends and family can’t be present, it’s a pick-me-up from a friend who knows you’ve been going through a rough time – which our Champagne for Good project recognises.
In uncertain times of worldwide disruption you learn pretty quickly whether you feel your business is worth fighting for. The response to COVID-19 has had unexpected benefits for me, giving me the time and headspace to look at my business anew and the grace to let me pursue opportunities. The result is a 220% uplift compared to this period last year. I hope it has not been wasted time for you.
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