Targeting a new customer base is a good way to...

Targeting a new customer base is a good way to pivot, says Janine Nicole Dennis, chief innovations officer at Talent Think Innovations, a Wheatley Heights-based business strategy consultancy Credit: Jonathan Henderson / JHendersonDesigns

The pandemic has caused a major shift in how companies operate and sell to their customers.

For some firms, it’s required a complete pivot in order to create new revenue streams after old ones dried up or to reach new customers in an ever-changing market.

For Robert Watson, president of Skyline New York, a Hauppauge-based manufacturer of trade show exhibits and displays, the pandemic inspired him to create a new division selling pandemic-related items such as sneeze guards, desktop and office partitions, distancing stickers, disinfecting light towers and sanitizing sprayers.

“It’s either pivot or you better have the capital to ride it out,” says Watson, a 36-plus-year trade show veteran who launched Workplace Safety Solutions (www.workplacesafetysolutions.net) in April after the pandemic put trade shows on hold.

And Watson isn’t alone.

A June survey by GetApp found 92% of small business respondents had pivoted in at least one way.

“The successful entrepreneur is one who sees himself or herself as being a bit of a maestro,” skilled in their ability to orchestrate the relationship between themselves and key stakeholders, says Jeffrey Bass, managing member of Executive Strategies Group LLC in Plainview, an operational and financial advisory firm. “They have to determine what customer needs are there today that might not have been obvious before the pandemic.”

That doesn’t mean you have to necessarily abandon your old business or customers, Bass says. But advise core customers that you’re providing as much as you can of your existing product or service but that you’ve pivoted beyond that, he adds.

If the pivot  is for health and safety reasons, communicate that.

“It’s a matter of marketing the pivot,” Bass says.

During the pandemic, Robert Watson, a Hauppauge-based manufacturer of trade...

During the pandemic, Robert Watson, a Hauppauge-based manufacturer of trade show exhibits and displays, pivoted to create a new division selling pandemic-related items such as sneeze guards and desktop and office partitions, seen here. Credit: Mark Vaimberg

For Watson when COVID hit, he was still servicing existing customers to get their trade show displays from convention sites back into storage. He’s still helping customers with virtual trade shows now that in-person events are canceled, but introduced the new line as a new revenue stream since he already had relationships with multiple plexiglass suppliers and distributors. 

To launch the new division, Watson hired personnel for marketing and invested in website development and advertising. Pre-pandemic, his company fluctuated between six and 10 employees; he now has two employees, a decline he cited to his core business being disrupted by the pandemic.

“It’s a whole new client base and it’s more local,” than the national trade shows, which were about 15-20 monthly pre-pandemic. Watson's new division has sold products to more than a dozen new clients, he said.

Targeting a new customer base is a good way to pivot, says Janine Nicole Dennis, chief innovations officer at Talent Think Innovations, a Wheatley Heights-based business strategy consultancy.

It’s good to look at your product or service from different perspectives and beyond just who you’re used to selling to, she says.

Also as a best practice it’s wise to have multiple streams of income, Dennis adds. “Business owners have to ask themselves what’s the best use of my vision and talent,” she says.

And while pivoting may seem daunting, entrepreneurs should look at it as an opportunity, says Ryll Burgin-Doyle, a business strategist, entrepreneur and founder of Burgin & Doyle, a global educational organization for business owners.

“This is a unique chance to pause, take time to think, be strategic, get leaner, find more leverage, tap new opportunities, offer something different, throw out the old "this is how we do it here" mentality and reinvent,” she says. 

If you don't have preexisting relationships or you're starting anew, it pays to do some market research to gauge demand and viability and assess competitive landscape, Dennis says. Also look at your strengths. It could even be a hobby that now may be another good viable revenue stream, she adds. 

The pandemic inspired Tonia Torrellas, who had been marketing reusable...

The pandemic inspired Tonia Torrellas, who had been marketing reusable bags to dry cleaners, to pivot and sell them to first responders and medical personnel. Credit: MIke Torrellas

Tonia Torrellas, founder of Plainview-based It’s My B, Inc., the parent company of her flagship product It’s My Bag, did just that with her reusable duel compartment garment bags.

For 10-plus years, she’d been marketing the reusable bags to dry cleaners as a way patrons could cut down on plastic use, but it was slow getting cleaners on board. So Torrellas, also a nurse, had put the business on the back burner for a few years. But just before the pandemic hit she was about to relaunch her bags at a new Manhattan dry cleaner with new production partners, New Jersey-based Incredible Packaging, until the shutdown stalled her plans.

Friends suggested her bags could be useful to essential workers who need to separate dirty clothes from clean clothes. She marketed the reusable bags on her Facebook page and got great response. She’s been selling them individually and wholesale through her website, www.itsmybag.com. Torrellas said she has sold more than 500 garment bags since March.

She got sponsors like the Melville office of New York Life, which ordered over 100 bags to distribute to health care workers and first responders through a donation from NY Life partner Alex Bujacich and adviser Shawn Swift.

Jessica Brown of Rockville Centre, a physician assistant in Manhattan, says it’s been a lifesaver for keeping dirty work clothes safely contained until she can put them in the wash.

“It’s been essential for me not to have to worry about bringing germs into the house,” Brown says.

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Some signs it’s time to pivot

  • Drop in revenue … that is, customers and prospects stop buying your products, or are buying far less than they did previously or changed their buying habits such as increased online buying.
  • Feedback from prospects and customers — they will either directly or by their behavior, tell you why they are or why they aren't doing something. What are they saying to you? Even more, what are their actions telling you?
  • Your industry as a whole has been clearly impacted. And all indications are clear that your industry will no longer be the same or be hampered for some years to come.

Source: Ryll Burgin-Doyle

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