Adapt or perish

Covid-19 has changed business forever 28 July 2020

“What started as a threat has turned into an opportunity” Talea Bader, founder of Workit Spaces, The Australian, 28 July 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic has altered our way of life and only those who adapt are going to prosper financially.

Businesses which continue to operate unsuccessfully using their previous model will go bust and those which have changed their entire way of thinking within the same industry are the potential winners.

Some, like tourism, which through no fault of their own such as having no incoming travellers, may have to wait it out. That will be hard going. But eventually this sector will boom again as Western Australia becomes even better known as a land of clean health and pristine living conditions.

Let’s look at one example of adaptation, admittedly pie in the sky, but ‘faint heart never won…’ and all that.

CAFE ECONOMICS: ADAPTATION NEEDED IN SOME CASES

You own a coffee shop. Pre-February 2020, you had a regular clientele, many of whom sat for an hour drinking one coffee, read the daily newspapers and didn’t order food.

During Covid-19 that changed. Customers weren’t allowed in.

You rearranged the shop, put the crockery and cutlery in a drawer; erected a Perspex screen near the front door; put some bakery items on display; began serving coffees in take away cups. If your customers wanted to hang about, they mingled and chatted in social distancing arrangements on the footpath outside your store. You may even have sold a similar number of coffees in less time.

However, let’s say your revenue dropped 20 per cent? Yet your expenses were 30 per cent less because you employed two people rather than four (forgive the maths, I’m freewheeling here).

You only had to clean a small section of your shop each day and you didn’t need the kitchen. Further savings in time and money.

By running a ‘hole-in-the-wall’ barista service rather than a café, you increased your profit margin by at least 10 per cent. You adapted.

Okay, what to do with the space? Rearrange the model.

-Arrange to sub-let it as private spaces where people, now working from home, can rent an area by the hour to plug in their laptop and work among company if they don’t like being in their own home all the time

– Get your cook/chef back and create an afternoon/early evening business selling pre-prepared take-away meals with a small, early-closing bistro-style eatery in the rest of the space. Re-hire at least one of your café staff to serve with you or alone

– Perhaps be even more imaginative by letting the chef have the food business for his/her own profit and they pay you a small fee for the space and its upkeep

 – The re-hired café employee may want to manage the office space idea as their business? They could look after its cleanliness; ferry coffees and other services on request to the sitting ‘office workers’.

You might do these in concert or rent the office space area from 8am-3pm and re-open as a BYO bistro from 4.30pm-8pm?

You’re paying rent for 24 hours, why not use it up? Your business used to close at 3pm, now it’s being used until much later. It’s working for you and you aren’t necessarily there working. If the bistro is a raging success, apply for a small bar licence until midnight?

If any of the above works, there is further percentage increase in profit for you and you have helped launch work colleagues as their own boss and potential entrepreneur. All feel good stuff.

BERNARD SALT

In today’s The Australian, demographer Bernard Salt said, post-Covid, up to 10 per cent (up from 5 per cent) of the “more than 12 million employed Australians” may choose or be asked to work from home.

This positively impacts on your café which you have turned into a meeting place for community from a place where customers once sat and had coffee. The footpath even becomes a quasi-part of your business (go on councils, come and throw a regulation at this?)

You have adapted and that’s the key word waiting for Covid-19 to clear.

What of the businesses that go broke? Maybe some were slowly going broke anyhow? Covid-19 gives these business owners a chance to bail out without losing too much dignity. They can always save face by saying they were victims of the pandemic.

That leaves a lot of shops vacant in high streets and shopping centres. Nothing lasts forever and commercial landlords of shops in retail strips or village atmospheres like Subiaco, Claremont and Cottesloe have had a good run across many years. A lot of the empty shops currently seen in these places are not being filled because the owners have to keep their desired rents high (without tenants) to warrant their exposure to the banks which hold their mortgages. Catch-22.

Lease the building for a song and the bank comes calling. Keep it empty, ask the previous rent and blame Covid-19.

Maybe some will sell? Fat chance but if they did at least these shops would come under new ownership and not be owned by families who have held them for generations and are immovable in their attitude. The high street may revitalise?

CHARM: QUAIRADING

What about the workers who have lost their jobs and the young people seeking jobs? Government support like JobKeeper and an increased Jobseeker allowance will stop. Then what?

In The Australian article, Salt says “displaced workers have used the pandemic as a circuit breaker to exit the ‘employee workforce’ to setup their own small business.” More importantly, he says “some of the expanding jobs very much lean towards the creative skill sets.” This will be the same for business owners who have closed.

Australians are innovative and creative. More power to them.

LAND RUSH: THE WEST AUSTRALIAN THE NEXT DAY

Repopulating the inland may also result from this pandemic? After getting used to working from home, we may find the next phase is moving to what Salt calls “a lifestyle location.” If the pandemic has dealt you a blow, your dollar is going to go a lot further in Bridgetown or Dongara or Quairading than it will in the city.

Property purchase or rent would surely be cheaper and think of the advantages of bringing up a young family in a location such as this compared to increasing crime and tension in the suburbs.

You are still “working from home” because communications enable you to. Not for everyone but some may choose it.

Younger adults may also want to explore the lifestyle of the international backpacker but do it nearer home. Orchards, farms, vineyards, country hospitality venues are crying out for staff. Wouldn’t it be exciting as a young couple or group of friends to head to the country and work in the outdoors even for six months?

I heard a story that the Cable Beach Club in Broome could not open its restaurant due to lack of staff. Hell, wish I was 20. I would head there in a heartbeat to work there and embrace Broome time during the Perth winter.

As Mr Bader said, the threat has turned into an opportunity.

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