The coronavirus pandemic has put unprecedented pressure on businesses and their staff. Some of us have had the opportunity to work from home and can carry on our professional lives in relative normality – albeit with the added distraction of children, pets and family.
But for businesses that operate in a more social environment – cafes, yoga studios, retailers – the challenge has been much greater.
Despite this, it’s been inspiring to see the inventive ways some businesses have pivoted their services to continue operating in this difficult climate. We spoke to business owners across three key industries about the challenges and rewards of adapting in this period of isolation.
Catering was one of the first industries to be hit by the crisis, with event cancellations and social restrictions bringing trade to a standstill for restaurants and food suppliers alike.
Lance Forman runs Forman and Son, a company that supplies smoked salmon to London restaurants and retailers.
The challenge for Lance has been twofold. He needs to protect his staff, many of whom cannot do their job from home, from getting sick. But he is also under immense pressure to ensure that his business continues to operate.
Lance says, “We are splitting some shifts so we separate work hours to reduce risk of infection. Some office staff are working from home.”
The business is split between the restaurant and retail industries. Lance worries that if the restaurants he supplies go under, he will be left facing huge unpaid debts. In the retail business, his concern is that shops are more focussed on buying essentials, such as loo roll and cleaning equipment, than on buying gourmet food.
Despite these challenges, business has been looking up for Lance. “We are getting orders from people cancelling restaurant reservations and dining at home. Also people sending lovely food parcels to elderly friends and relatives to perk them up at this difficult time.”
Lance is not the only supplier now offering home deliveries to customers.
Moo Jevons Catering is primarily an events catering business. Owner, Tamara Jevons, says, “Due to coronavirus all my events have been cancelled for the foreseeable future so I have no income guaranteed. I’ve decided to adapt and do food deliveries instead. This entails home cooked meals being delivered directly to my clients to fill up their fridges and freezers.”
The effects of coronavirus on the retail industry vary drastically. Supermarkets have seen a sudden surge in demand, with Asda and Lidl announcing they will be hiring additional staff to help them cope with the increase in customers.
For companies at the more niche end of the retail industry, the story is vastly different.
Carmen O’Neal is the Managing Director of 58 Gin, a distillery that has temporarily halted gin production and is using its full capacity to produce ‘Gin-itizer’, a gin-based hand sanitiser.
“The drinks industry is suffering because people are avoiding bars and pubs, which is leaving people in real financial difficulty.” says Carmen. “When we bottled our first gin, I never imagined we’d be stopping production to make hand sanitisers. However, this has been a critical move to help keep our staff in jobs and protect the future of the company during very challenging times.”
Other retailers have changed the way they offer their services to customers. Zebra One is a gallery in Hampstead which, as well as selling art, provides art consultations and picture framing services.
Zebra One have now moved their business entirely online and are providing free online exhibitions, workshops and tutorials to entertain people during their social distancing.
In this period of isolation, the last thing health advisors want us to do is work out in a confined space with a large group of people. So, many gyms and yoga studios have duly shut their doors for the foreseeable future.
But exercise is fundamental for our mental and physical health and the demand for creative workout solutions has, if anything, grown as isolated people feel increasingly claustrophobic.
In response, several companies have started offering alternative fitness solutions. Barry’s Bootcamp are running free online HIIT classes, whilst yoga studio Flex Chelsea have moved their workouts outdoors.
Olivia Prichard, owner of BalanceYou, a London based personal training and nutritional advisory company says, “Social media is such a great way to reach out to people, especially at a time when they are self isolating and social distancing, we think it’s extremely important that people don’t feel alone.”
BalanceYou have uploaded “at home workouts” as well as “in the park activities” for people to enjoy online. Their message is for people to stay positive and motivated during this difficult time.
“At a time when people are losing their jobs,” says Olivia, “we are trying to engage and support everyone we can!”
Only time will tell us what the long term effects of coronavirus will be on UK business. But in challenging circumstances, it is heartening to see so many small business owners supporting their staff, their customers and other companies in such thoughtful and creative ways.
One thing for certain is that business works best when people pull together, support each other and share their ideas and experience. Long may this spirit continue.