“Consider this a lemonade moment,” someone told me recently. You know … lemonade from the inescapable lemons a coronavirus-fueled world is lobbing our way. “Absolutely,” I replied, feigning optimism.
Dark times bring out the inner cheerleader in us all. Or, at least in friends and family encouraging us to soldier on despite the looming uncertainty that hangs over livelihoods. They mean well, of course, wanting our businesses to thrive, and to assuage our fears … and do we ever have fears. Seriously, though, how often do you wish you sent the call to voicemail?
For me, not only is the glass half empty, there’s a big chip in it. So, despite the drumbeat of rosy calls I receive, I usually get a nicked lip when I take a drink.
Conversations with two business owners changed my perspective, however, as they’ve discovered the good in a potentially ruinous situation. And all it took was slightly pivoting their respective business models. Here, then, are their recipes for making lemonade.
Thinking Inside the Box
Learning about New York’s quarantine, and believing Michigan could soon follow, the executives of Beyond Juicery + Eatery, a metro Detroit-based chain of healthy fast-casual cafes specializing in fresh juices, smoothies, salad bowls and wraps, convened a late night call to prepare. “We agreed we needed to get ahead of this and immediately shift focus … and that’s when we came up with the idea of kits,” said Elliott Disner, the company’s vice president, referring to the Essential Kits the chain now sells from its stores.
Selling the kits, Elliott said, was a way to keep open as many of its 14 locations (all but three, located in commercial properties required to close, are open) and, more to the point, to keep employees working. While the stores would stay open for customers to pick-up orders, Elliott said the leadership team knew more could be done. The kits, which range in price between $10 and $125, have been such a hit the company hired additional staff. Elliott’s also proudly notes the first kit launched from 10 locations just three days after the idea was conceived.
Most of the kits hew to the brand’s ethos of offering fresh and healthy selections. Among them are those with fixings for homemade juices and smoothies, as well as pantry and refrigerator staples. One kit, though, speaks to a more indulgent palate: the charcuterie kit. Elliott admits the heavy meat and cheese presentation is a bit unexpected for Beyond Juice. “Our customers are home now, and they need something nice for themselves, to relax and feel in good spirits,” he explained, adding, “It’s more thoughtful in that sense. We need something to make us feel normal, and that’s why we’re here.”
Beyond adapting the business model, the company is doubling down on efforts to connect with employees and customers. The HR department phones corporate staffers and screens store employees daily. And “we’re calling or texting customers to see how they’re doing and to see what other types of products they’d like us to offer,” Elliott said. “It’s pretty cool we now have the opportunity to make connections this way.”
Elliott is certainly a glass-is-half-full kind of operator, and he and his colleagues are using this time to tick items from the to-do list. He said, “We’ve had things on our list for two years that we were able to accomplish in two days” like resolving issues with the app.
Elliott circles back to talk about the store employees. “They’re thankful for the work, to be a part of what we’re doing. At first it was an adjustment because the business model changed. Once they realized, though, that the shift had their best interest in mind” they became champions for brand.
A bustling Beyond Juice interior, before the mandated shut-down order.
And they certainly have a lot more to be excited about. “We’re still focusing on growth, signing franchising agreements,” Elliott said, noting the company will open its planned 20 additional locations this year. “We’re going to come out stronger than ever with a better understanding of our customers.”
Finally, Elliott acknowledges that beyond a good team, the key to successfully pivoting is to be creative, think differently, keep the brand top of mind and, most importantly, accept that when launching a new initiative “there will be a risk.” But, he’s quick to add, “There’s risk in all business. But we’ve really flexed our muscle during the pandemic.” Indeed, Elliott’s optimism is refreshing, like a cold glass of lemonade.
She Said … They Listened
The sign on the storefront in Bloomfield Hills says SHE. The videos on Facebook and Instagram say “SHE in the Dining Room.” And so it is that Sharon Eisenshtadt, owner of SHE, a women’s designer and contemporary apparel boutique, pivoted from warmly greeting customers at her sleek storefront to virtually welcoming them into her handsomely-appointed home, specifically her dining room, outfitted with clothing racks and fresh floral arrangements to mimic her shuttered shop.
Sharon is a fashion retail veteran, and has operated SHE for 12 years. She’s elegantly traversed retail’s shifting landscape over the decades, but this time is different. Faced with those other challenges, she worked to survive. Today, she’s working to build a better community, both in terms of connecting with customers and, just as important, fellow merchants. Sharon explained she’s always wanted area shops to rely on each other, to support one another, to refer clients … to foster a community of like-minded retailers all for the benefit of showcasing the bounty of fine merchandise available locally. The shift to her dining room, while keeping her business buoyant, is also helping her reach that goal of creating a dynamic merchant ecosystem.
The videos, roughly three minutes in length, showcase seasonal trends and new arrivals, not only from SHE but also from other stores.
“A customer sent me a photo of a sneaker … I knew a local store carried the shoe, so I reached out to the owner … she made the sale,” Sharon explained. Recently, that store, Sundance Shoes, has been featured in installments of “SHE in the Dining Room.”
“It’s not even about dollars … it’s about keeping customers engaged” and building relationships with colleagues she said.
And the customers are engaged. “Whatever we’re doing, it’s working,” said Sharon, acknowledging customers are buying, and sending encouragement via text messages. Ever the optimist, Sharon believes we’ll soon again dress for dinner and business meetings, social events and travel. And when we do, we’ll need something new to wear.
The shift from store to home was seamless, so a plan must have been at the ready. Sharon said there was no such thing, in fact. “We got word that stores would have to close at 3:00 … I looked at Howard [her husband] and we loaded up the cars with merchandise, making several trips,” Sharon said. The videos, filmed by Howard and her daughter, Julia, began a few days after.
A makeshift merchandise display in Sharon's home.
Sharon’s pivot was motivated by an essential part of her personhood. “This is my livelihood. I didn’t have a choice but to make this shift … [retail] is my identity,” explained Sharon. “So imagine if I had to shut down my identity … I wouldn’t even know what to do.”
Sharon said that traditionally March, April and May are strong for the store. “But I’m fortunate,” she said, “that we have a mechanism in place to drive business as a hybrid online/brick and mortar experience.” So far she’s pleased that SHE is selling merchandise and remaining relevant. Unusual, perhaps, but Sharon only sees positives. “Today’s business unusual will be the new business as usual,” she said, “I’m excited.”
And I’m looking at lemons a lot differently.
Edward Nakfoor is a Birmingham, Michigan-based freelance writer and marketer for small businesses. How is your business pivoting right now? Contact with Ed at email@example.com.
Connect with Elliott at firstname.lastname@example.org or Sharon at @shestores.