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Strategically Preparing your Business for Coronavirus COVID-19

The coronavirus COVID-19 has already taken the world by storm, with some geographic regions and industries feeling it worse than other so far… but with the new pandemic announcement, everyone needs to start thinking about how to prepare. Now is the time to take a look at what your business can do to adjust for this very unpredictable time.

Will Coronavirus Affect My Business?

The short answer is yes. So many businesses are affected that there will be a ripple effect to just about every other business in every country, regardless of industry. Some companies will have more difficulty – due to drops in demand, inaccessibility to supply, and overall increases in operating risk, specifically the following types, and especially if cases increase to where people are restricted from leaving their homes:

  • Tourism businesses, as travel is being greatly restricted
  • Hospitality businesses, such as hotels/restaurants
  • Event-based businesses where people gather and socialize, e.g. conferences, sporting events, fitness gyms, classes, musical performances, churches
  • Bricks and mortar retail businesses, shopping malls
  • Customer-contact service businesses – such as pools, salons, massage clinics
  • Companies that import/export products or components
  • Companies leasing real estate – as many businesses may struggle to afford their premises and/or turn to work-from-home options
  • Children’s and seniors’ care facilities
  • Mass transportation businesses – airlines, bus lines, trains

To a lesser degree, any other business that is doing business with any of the above businesses will also have a negative impact.

Which Businesses May Experience Higher Demand from Coronavirus?

Alternately, some businesses may have an influx of unexpected demand, for which they should be prepared.

  • Companies offering deliveries of product, or who have virtual presence for e-commerce. Do you deliver groceries, supplies, clothing? Basic necessities being delivered to consumers who are quarantined will likely increase online shopping.
  • Companies that manufacture locally made products. Assuming you can keep your production lines very clean of infection, you may play a more important role in supplying the needs of the domestic market. If you make parts or components, consider reaching out to companies who might be able to substitute your local products or components for any they cannot currently get out of foreign, affected areas.
  • Companies offering products/services for cocooning. Imagine you are living your life inside the house for a while – what do you want? Groceries, cleaning supplies, entertainment streaming services, big screen TVs, exercise equipment, high-speed wireless, comfortable furnishings. Likely the purchase of these will lean more heavily on basic necessities first, but cocooning behaviour can certainly lead to higher demand of these items across the board. Since public transit may be avoided, ride sharing services and taxi services may also see boosts.
  • Businesses that assist in difficult situations. Demand will likely increase for legal services, medical/pharmaceutical products, psychological counselling, estate planning, or even funeral services.
  • Temporary/ recruitment agencies. Replacing ill staff with last-minute substitutes will be necessary. Likely, there will be demand for temporary workers for retail, clerical and even office staff.
  • Inexpensive suppliers of basic services. If businesses shut down and people lose employment, the lowest-cost suppliers of basic services and products will likely see an increase in demand.

10 Ways To Prepare Your Business for Coronavirus COVID-19

The bigger question is, as a business owner, is there anything you can do to prepare? Certainly, there is, but keep in mind that your actions will most likely depend on your type of business. The following ideas may or may not apply to your business in the near term but will serve as a good list of actions and ideas to consider.

  1. Boost precautionary measures. Especially if you are running a business that requires significant contact with customers or food, i.e. restaurant, grocery store, salon, massage clinic – but for any employer as well, take all reasonable precautions such as:
    Hygiene Policies: Spell out your hygiene procedures to your staff and ensure everyone is following them to the letter! Check these recommendations by Health Canada.
    Sick/ work from home policies: If you are still allowed to be open, mandate a stay-at-home policy when sick, “maybe-sick”, or a household member is sick, no questions asked. Enable videoconferencing or live-streaming technology to minimize loss of business and keep things running where possible.
    Cleaning and Sanitation: Ensure washrooms and customer-facing areas have hand sanitizer, soap, paper towels and toilet paper at all times. Ensure your business, employees, and surrounding areas look and smell neat and clean – impressions are critical especially at this time.
  2. Post your cleaning and handling procedures. Consider adding one or more of these policies to your website and social media pages, and also post them physically and visibly at your premises. You may also want to send out an e-blast to your entire customer base.
    • Staff Illness policy – include stay-at-home when household members are sick.
    • Cleaning and handling policies.
    • Merchandise disinfectants used, and policies.
    • List of origins of product in store, especially if local; if not, emphasize disinfection policies.
    • Consider a “do not touch” the store goods policy, and/or supply disposable gloves and hand sanitizers to customers.
    • If you give samples of food or product in store, you may want to suspend this if reliably sterile procedures cannot be established. Make-up counter test samples (lipsticks, etc.) come to mind as potential hazard zones.
    • Change and post new hand-shaking policy; Check out these alternatives to handshakes such as fist-bumps, elbow bumps, etc. and select something that works for your brand. Or, create a unique greeting for your business!
    • If you have to close the premises or run short-staffed, post a sign explaining that you are short of staff today, request your customers’ patience, and/or provide alternate recommendations for easier service, e.g. take a number and have a seat.
    • Try re-configuring your shop floor or dining areas – can you move tables and chairs further apart? Only seat every other table? Also minimize cash handling, or have your staff use gloves at registers.
  3. Facilitate working-at-home. Help employees work at home by ensuring work files are on web-accessible servers, providing technology such as laptops and phones, and setting up secure online meeting services.
  4. Mitigate your risk. It is always good practice to not a) rely too heavily on a single source of revenue (e.g. tourism to/from one country or one customer) or b) rely too heavily on a single source of supply (e.g. there is only one vendor who can supply a certain product for you). Now is the time to be marketing to new accounts (possibly with incentives) or vendor-hunting to diversify risk. If you feel there is a risk of non-payment by customers, or if you might see unusually high demand, now is also a very good time to visit your banker to boost your credit line. We’re not insurance experts, but we’re guessing it is likely too late to get insurance against it, and whether yours will cover it depends on your policy. Not a bad idea to talk to your insurance team if you want to know.
  5. Cancel employee travel. Can you prevent employees from travelling for work? Seriously consider it. Requiring travel may put you at risk as the employer, and certainly, there is no reason to run unnecessary risk to valuable employees.
  6. Start offering e-commerce and/or delivery. Consider that at some point, you may not want to be serving people face to face, for risk of infecting your employees and entire operation. Recently, a bank teller who tested positively for COVID-19 caused a shut down at not one, but two bank branches. Is the bank going to go out of business? Thanks to banking apps and online services, clearly the answer is no. Apply this model to your business – and work on building procedures and technologies so that you can opt to offer services remotely.
  7. Repackage or re-distribute your services. There are ways you can fulfill needs of people who may be getting sick or wanting to stay at home. For example:
    • If you’re a food-services company, maybe you can package a “pickup packet” of food, drinks or snacks that people can come to you and get, or partner with a service like Skip the Dishes? Or perhaps you can create a “food truck” or delivery service.
    • If you’re planning an event or holding a class, consider doing it remotely via live stream. There are many platforms that allow good interaction online, and you can likely reduce your rate of no-shows.
    • Are there services or products you could provide that might aid the situation? Can you develop or make masks, therapeutic teas, vitamins/supplements, sell air-purifying devices, cleaners, bath bombs, soaps, home-made soups, or delivery services of any kind? Think about what sick people may need that you can supply and figure out if there’s a way to get it to them more easily.
  8. Build a short-term staffing plan. If indeed you’re able and allowed to be open (specific manufacturing sectors especially) consider collecting resumes now if you want to keep your doors open and need a certain number of staff on deck to do it. Having floater, casual staff (even training a few temps or family members) could be the difference between being open and being closed. Cross-training internal staff is also a good option too; and also important for business who expect higher demand.
  9. Re-examine your pricing. While some businesses may see increased demand, we recommend you avoid profiteering off hardship to the point of increasing prices. We were happy to see grocers at the Calgary Co-op offering ten cans for $10 on canned soup; this kind of pricing acknowledges that people are needing to stock up, but without taking advantage unnecessarily. Remember that social media can be as “viral” than the coronavirus itself when it comes to disrupting a business, so price conscientiously and act with kindness. There might even be an opportunity to give something away for free when the time is right.
  10. Keep moving forward. Don’t panic. If you cancel all growth plans in anticipation of calamity, you’ll likely see more impact than if you kept your head high and your teams moving. There might even be opportunities to lower costs, find new staff, or make positive first impressions. Remember that businesses can gain ground if they are better prepared than competitors. Like an economic crisis, it is the companies who are well prepared who are able to stay standing firm and growing in market share. To the best extent that you possibly can, be the winning case study, not the cautionary tale.

While we’ve developed these recommendations in the hopes that they will cover most businesses, think of this as simply a start. Only you know what sanitation or health risks your customers and employees may be facing, and how they might be mitigated. We’re business strategy consultants, not epidemiologists or risk assessors; but hopefully with a little help from us, and the plethora of other thoughts on the web, your business will be able to come through the coronavirus COVID-19 situation standing strong.

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Jacqueline Drew
About the Author - Jacqueline Drew
Jacqueline M. Drew, BComm, MBA is founder and CEO of Tenato Strategy Inc., a marketing research and strategy firm with bases in Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto. With over 25 years' experience in all facets of marketing strategy, she is a business consultant, trainer and speaker who loves to use her superpowers "to help the good guys win."