Ways regional business can survive COVID-19

Published on 27 March 2020

Photo: How can regional businesses adapt and meet demand for their products? (credit: Lauren Bamford)

Businesses in regional Victoria just got through an unprecedented summer. Now these areas, like all of Australia, are facing a new challenge to their livelihood with the outbreak of COVID-19 and necessary government measures to prevent its spread. Jay Dillon, the founder of regional travel website One Hour Out, has some ideas for how regional businesses in food, drink and tourism might shift their business models to survive. Here he shares them with the MFWF community.

What. Just. Happened. Here we were licking our wounds from the bloody bushfires and then we’re hit with a global pandemic. This is painful for everyone. I don't think there’s anyone in regional tourism or hospitality who isn't wondering how the heck they are going to make it through this. But I know that our industry is nothing if not resilient, and many of you are already looking for ways to get through this. I’ve put together some ideas here: some are obvious, some are a bit left-field. Either way, I hope it gets you thinking outside the box and helps you to realise that anything is possible with courage, creativity and a supportive community. You got this!

First of all, if you’re struggling, call someone. It really does help. Talk to a neighbour, a friend, family members or one of the numbers listed here. If you’re like me, you might find it most helpful to call another business owner in your area as they are more likely than anyone to understand how you’re feeling. Do it.

Restaurants, cafes and wineries

Join some of the regional restaurants who are starting up home delivery services for local residents. 360q in Queenscliff is doing 14-day isolation dinners,  Archive Wine Bar deliverscider and sliders, and the list keeps growing each day. Not everyone wants Domino's pizza; there are lots of people used to having nice food and wine on occasion. If Attica can make takeaway work, then so can you.

Wineries, breweries and distilleries need to make sure they are selling online right now (or at least taking phone orders!). Think about doing free delivery around your area and even into Melbourne. Could you create something special for your customers like a Quarantine Case? Post it on social media and, if you've got an email list, make sure you promote it there, too. 

People who are under self-isolation instructions may be staying in Airbnbs and other accommodation in country towns. And they are definitely going to want quality wine, cheese and meals delivered. Reach out to every accommodation provider in your area and offer them the service. Print a menu so it's even easier for them to put in the rooms. 

Can you produce something shelf-stable to sell online to people stuck in quarantine? A great example during the bushfires was The Bright Chicken Shop bottling up their barbecue sauce and selling it online as Alpine Sauce Co. Other ideas that are cheap to send to Melbourne include cookies and crackers, herb and spice mixes, condiments, make or grow-at-home kits. Think about what makes your offering so special and then how that can be turned into a product that can be shipped. Don’t have an online store yet? List your product on the One Hour Out market

Talk to your staff about their hidden talents. Perhaps your team can get crafty and start making scented candles, planter bags and natural soaps to sell online. Check out Etsy for ideas. There's going to be people wanting to decorate their home while they are indoors 24/7.

Can you make something that is in high demand right now due to the virus? Bellarine Brewing Company, along with others, have started making hand sanitiser. Could you do produce boxes, homemade pasta, or something else people need now?

Tour operators

You might need to turn into a delivery company for a while. Hit up all the local restaurants, cafes and wineries in your region and let them know you will do deliveries locally but also into Melbourne.

Make sure people are able to buy gift vouchers to be used at a later date. You might find people start doing this just to show you support.

General tips

Make sure to stay connected to your local tourism board and keep checking in with them and your local council as well. They have information that is specific to your region and can help you connect with other businesses to partner on things.

If you don't have anyone to help you start selling online, send me an email and I will help you get started without any charge. 

Continue posting on social media and sending emails if you have a list. When this is all over, you'll be front of mind. Let people know what you're still doing and how you are coping with the situation.

You might be in a situation where it's actually better to shut the doors and ride this out. If you need to close, check your local council website: lots of them are looking for people to help with things like Meals on Wheels deliveries. Or you could offer to help one of the other businesses in your town.

Good luck.

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