We are steering our businesses through exceptional times. There’s no textbook on how to run a business in a pandemic and there’s no template for a business model that will withstand every storm. We can’t even rely on economic disruption to be consistently applied across the world, as I found out recently.
While champagne-makers in France have resigned themselves to decreased sales in its domestic market for the foreseeable future, sales are bucking the trend in Australia.
Maybe we are better insulated from the economic impacts of the pandemic. Maybe we were able to more accurately gauge the market receptivity to a luxury product. I would suggest it’s all about having the right business model for the times.
Play to your strengths
What are you best at? How can you maximise your advantages?
It probably wouldn’t surprise you to learn that alcohol consumption is up 86% since lockdown began. The biggest issue for us, as a specialist champagne stockist, is that champagne is a celebratory beverage: would people suffering through lockdown still want to drink it? Unlike the French, the Australian market says yes.
People are still having birthdays and celebrating milestones, and champagne is one way to acknowledge these events with something special. My business has also witnessed several engagements and bosses thanking staff for soldiering on as well as customers buying a bottle for themselves and one for a friend with an invitation for a virtual drink together.
Our strength is about being able to hit the sweet spot on price point. While the economic downturn might mean a decline in car sales, champagne sales are up because it’s an ‘affordable luxury’. Champagne experienced a similar trend during the global financial crisis.
Another area where we’ve excelled is helping our customers make an informed purchase. Before lockdown, most of my role in the business was as the face of it, educating consumers at tasting events and masterclasses.
While we can’t do in-person events at the moment, we still maintain the educational side of the business through our website, videos and newsletters – and even with people who call up – which enhances people’s appreciation of our champagnes.
As a result we’ve seen a lot of the more niche brands selling well when I would have expected most of the focus on the big, better known brands.
Leverage your investments
What key investments have you made in your business? Have you invested in education, skilled personnel, equipment, technology, partnerships? How have you leveraged them during this pandemic?
At great cost we decided to have our own fully acclimatised warehouse for stock, which meant we had to staff it and pay all the overheads. On balance, however, we considered the cost worthwhile due to the amount of control it gave us over our inventory and our packing quality.
What has been interesting about lockdown is the advantage this affords us in terms of quality of packaging and delivery time, which has proven to be a significant differentiator. We are faster than anyone else in the alcohol delivery space in Australia.
If you didn’t own your own warehouse you would accept an order and send it to a third-party warehouse, which you’d share with other suppliers.
If they have the items in stock it gets packed and shipped, maybe before, maybe after the other clients depending on pecking order and priority. If they don’t have stock, they need to contact the importer and it will eventually make its way to the customer.
Having our own warehouse means every order is our customer and we take enormous pride in handwriting all notes, luxury wrapping each order and the speed with which we do it.
Customers feel confident that the bottle will arrive in a timely manner, which is an important factor in sales, especially if it’s for a special occasion. Instilling this confidence is key for repeat purchases and building a long-term relationship. Unwrapping our bottles is almost as indulgent as drinking the champagne itself.
How versatile is your business? How quickly can you pivot to adapt to change?
If this pandemic has taught us anything it’s that change will soon be the only constant in business and the organisations that can adapt the fastest are going to be the ones best equipped to succeed. When we saw this coming we sat down as a team to discuss how we could pivot.
The in-person event side of the business was out, but we could do online social events for club members; people weren’t buying champagne for prestige or to collect, but we could expand our gift and hamper range; face-to-face education was cancelled, but how about trying a virtual masterclass?
The COVID-19 situation has exposed a lot of flaws in businesses across many industries. Fortunately, most of these aren’t fatal; think of the pandemic as a stress test for your operations. Using the situation to address your business’ shortcomings will give you the means to build one that’s strong enough to withstand a risky market and versatile enough to accommodate uncertainty.