07801 250 668secretary@uckfieldchamber.co.uk

I’m sure anyone who has ever watched the series ‘Friends’ remembers the iconic ‘Pivot’ scene where Ross and Rachel are moving a sofa up some narrow stairs. Ross keeps shouting ‘pivot’ and Rachel doesn’t know what he means, and the sofa gets stuck on the stairs. You may be asking, how this relates to business during a pandemic? I found this definition of a pivot in business.

“A pivot usually occurs when a company make a fundamental change to their business after determining (usually through market research) that their product isn’t meeting the needs of their intended market.”

However, due to Covid-19 many businesses including ourselves have had to pivot the direction of their business instantly (with none of the market research) with no government support and with many business owners having to do this whilst home schooling their children. If you had asked me 13 weeks ago if I could restructure my business, home school and work a second job at the same time, I would have laughed in your face.  Yet, here we are over 100 days later, with a restructured business model (and more than a few new wrinkles.)

So how did we get here?

It started in March, when the Prime Minister announced that there was to be no “non-essential travel or contact” with people outside of your home. As an entertainment’s company, we are part of an industry built entirely on the model of mass gatherings. It was clear that we were heading into unchartered territory.  The announcement by the Chancellor, that no business would be left behind followed soon after and we breathed a sigh of relief. However, we were soon to learn that as company director’s we were ineligible for any of the government support schemes.

Quite frankly we were terrified about how we would put food on the table and pay our mortgage. With no way of generating income, I found myself staring at the equipment in our office mentally calculating how much of it we would need to sell to pay our bills. It was a dark time, and I would be lying if I said that there weren’t a few tears shed. It was during this time that I came across a group called ‘Excluded UK’ and we saw just how many people like ourselves had slipped through the cracks of government funding.

We knew that furlough was not an option for us, as we had a summer of customer bookings to now reschedule. We felt it was unfair to our customers not to be available for the lengthy and often heart-breaking task of rescheduling their weddings and events. This led to a fight or flight response to the situation we had found ourselves in (through no fault of our own.) We decided that if the business were to go down, we would not go down without a fight. I needed to be able to look myself in the mirror and know that even if we failed to save the company, we had tried everything we could.

For me, the moment of realisation happened whilst in the bath! We have always invested in high quality equipment, and it became clear to me that our equipment was our biggest asset. If we sold it, we would be in a far worst position the following year (if we could survive that long having sold the company’s equipment.) We needed to create a way to utilise our assets without the mass gatherings we would normally supply at this time of year. We had a bell tent that we normally use as a children’s area at weddings and with the rise in staycations this year, it seemed like a good place to start for a company pivot. I found that a lot of events companies were doing the same but were renting out a bell tent dressed to look like a hotel room. We decided to rent ours out with some of our lighting equipment to create a mini festival package. We added some fabulous custom lanyards with artwork from WW Design and the ‘Stay Home Fest’ bell tent package was born.

Our customers have responded very positively to the package and we have now invested in more bell tents. We started with one bell tent and we now have four, which are out on hire most weekends until September. The package can be delivered without contact with the client so is compliant with the government guidelines on social distancing.

We must create new products for the winter season, but I feel stronger and more able to navigate the restrictions than I did 13 weeks ago.

I would offer this advice to any business owner looking to pivot to survive the pandemic:

  1. Don’t Panic. Take time to make decisions and try to stay calm. Under stress you can make rash decisions that may impact your business negatively further down the line. Prioritise changes that will be the most impactful for your business.
  2. Think about what your biggest asset is. Do you have equipment you could rent out? A factory or warehouse space you could repurpose? Or skills you could use in a different way? As small business owners, we often find ourselves wearing many hats. This makes us flexible and resilient, so use this to your advantage.
  3. Create your support network. Being a small business owner, can feel lonely at the best of times, let alone in a global pandemic. Reach out to other business owners for support. A problem shared is a problem halved! Being part of Excluded UK has been very comforting to us knowing we are not alone.
  4. Be honest with your customers and your team. It is Ok not to have all the answers but keep the lines of communication open. Transparency will make the whole plan more successful if everyone is on the same page. In times of uncertainty people respect honesty, we have kept our customers updated regularly on our social media and the response has been incredibly positive.
  1. Take time away from the business. When your business is in jeopardy, you can feel like you want to spend every hour working to save it. This is not productive, and you need to prioritise your mental health as well as the health of the business. A quick walk or an hour at the beach can do wonders for your state of mind. Your business needs you to be mentally healthy to continue to fight for its survival.

I know that there is a long road ahead of us and ahead of the whole entertainment’s industry. We were one of the first sectors to close and we expect to be one of the last to reopen. The “new normal” will not include mass gatherings for a long time, so I know we must continue to be creative with our business model to survive.

Off The Wall Entertainment are not out of the water yet, but I would say that we are starting to swim.

Gemma Morris, Company Director.