Small businesses find innovative ways to stay afloat during COVID-19 crisis

Heart shaped dishes with pomegranate
Dinah Bryant
Wed 01 Apr

Businesses across the country are facing a crisis like no other. Many business doors, large and small, have been forced shut as our nation unites to stop the spread of Coronavirus in Australia.

These unprecedented circumstances have touched every corner of the globe and every type of business imaginable. There are gyms and yoga studios now running classes online, distilleries that have turned from alcohol to hand sanitiser production. And, with this, there is a strong movement to support our local businesses, or put simply, #loveyourlocal.

I’m a Canberra cake decorator. I made the decision two weeks ago to down tools (for a time unknown) at my home-based business. With parties and weddings affected by the public gathering regulations, my core client base evaporated.

In addition to this I was finding it extremely difficult to buy supplies due to a spike in grocery buying behaviours (I’m being polite….the panic buying!). I was often travelling to three or four supermarkets just to find flour, sugar or eggs.

I wasn’t the only one. Many other local decorators who I follow on Facebook were forced to make the same decision.

However, I’ve also heard some fabulous stories about business owners who are doing all they can to comply with current regulations and still keep operating, not only to support themselves, but their staff and community.

Mark Ramsay is co-owner of a popular café/restaurant in the suburb of Forde in Canberra.   

He admits a global pandemic is one of the biggest challenges he’s ever faced as a business owner. Mark and his partner quickly reinvented their business model and turned their focus to take-away coffee and meals, along with home delivery.

“We are no longer a business that’s interested in making money. All we want to do, for as long as possible, is keep as many of those key people employed; mortgages paid, kids fed and rooves of their heads.”

When Frankies kick-started operations again, via the front window of the store, the support from the local community was overwhelming.

On the third day after re-opening the Frankies Facebook page said “…that was the highest number of meals we have done in a 3 hour period...Ever! So sorry to anyone who waited longer than we would’ve liked. We will definitely be better for tonight the best news is we can bring a few more of our staff back to work to deal with demand”.

A little innovation has allowed this much loved business to continue trading in the face of adversity.

And it’s a familiar story with other like businesses. Coyote Catering based in Fyshwick, Canberra, has also restructured.

Business owner Jason Herbert has turned his catering business into “Dinners to your door”. His business now prepares complete meals that can be purchased online and either picked up or home delivered.

In addition he is also preparing grocery boxes to assist those who are finding it difficult to find groceries or get out and purchase groceries.

The innovative twist on his business has been welcomed by the community, particularly those more vulnerable who have already had to self-isolate. But like Mark, Jason is not motivated by a healthy bottom line; he simply wants to help his fellow Canberrans.

“It’s so important to be human to each other. There’s been far too much stepping over each other rather than lending a hand…it’s a time to look over your shoulder and see who’s behind you that needs a hand.”

From food to hair…the spotlight has been on hairdressers in the last week.

Julie Okely owns Dilkara Hair. Her home salon is located in Bonner, Canberra. She has made the decision to close her doors for business, and like many, she’s not sure when she’ll be able to reopen.

As a mum of two and a sole trader, Julie, for the first time ever in a 30-year hairdressing career has had to seek government assistance.

“I’ve been self-employed since I was 17, owning multiple salons, but this is the first time the pathway of my career has been taken out of my control and I’ve been told there is a threat to me working in my environment.

On the plus side Julie creates her own hair care products. Her Dilkara Essence of Australia products are available online. And she too has engaged in some innovative thinking to help her clients through this time.

Julie has created personal home colouring kits to allow her clients to treat their hair at home while she is closed and is assisting them through the process online—a move which has been welcomed by her clients.

“They feel so grateful that someone is supporting them and that they’re not being overlooked.”

Photographers have also been hit hard by the new social distancing and public gatherings regulations.

Tracy Hebden is owner of Tracy Lee Photography in Canberra. Sadly there have been many wedding and corporate photographic sessions cancelled. However, Tracy is determined to ensure she can still use her skills and build social capital and connection during this difficult time.

Inspired by the work of Lithuanian photographer, she is taking to the streets on her bicycle and has invited clients to have window photos taken. Those being photographed are inside their home while Tracy captures the moment from outside.

With a beautiful heart, Tracy is offering these sessions free of charge simply wanting to offer families the opportunity to capture a memory…however, she admits the concept of an exhibit or photo book is a possibility.

“I think we’ll get some really good stories out of this as well. I’ll be asking for a little bit of feedback on how it felt, what it was like getting ready for it, what they did before and after their shoot. It will be a snapshot of this time, even if they just stick on the fridge, they can say ‘remember that time we were stuck at home’.”

So while there are hundreds of businesses and their employees in a world of financial pain right now, there are also some inspiring stories of how some are innovating to keep their dreams alive.

The moral to the current story is that your local business needs you and your community needs them. #loveyourlocal and help them through these unprecedented times.

*Specialists in Communications is conducting interviews with local business to tell their stories and assist them through this period. To discover more visit the #loveyourlocal page on the Specialists in Communications website.