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Should Your COVID Pivot Become Your New Normal?

Updated: Sep 18, 2020

pivot: (n.) the central point, pin, or shaft on which a mechanism turns or oscillates;

(v.) to balance or turn on a central point.

My first experience with pivoting came as a 5th grader playing basketball. I can still remember the drills! Holding the ball firmly between my palms, elbows out like triangles, ready to twist and spin until open space was found. All of this was done with one foot firmly on the ground, heel up, toes staying in place as if they were glued there.

Many people talk about a pivot as a complete change in direction for their business. But a pivot should be thought of as the core of the business around which other pieces change and move. These changes and movements are done to meet the changing conditions of the marketplace.

A pivot, then, is a purposeful change around an unchanging center.

A pivot for a seamstress could be making masks for COVID-19. But, if an electrician starts to sew and sell masks out of their truck, this is a new business, not a pivot. Great examples of pivots in our current environment are restaurants offering curbside pick-up, gift shops adding online ordering, and gyms creating online training for their members. The core of the business remains the same, but the way in which they operate changes to meet the demands of the new marketplace.

Grooming operations to meet today’s needs

To illustrate the pivot, I want to tell you the story of one of my clients, Amber.

Amber owns Green Collar Grooming, an all-natural dog grooming company in Waupun, WI. After being closed for a month, she has reopened with some major changes.

Due to social distancing rules, she has closed her lobby and changed the drop-off process. Customers now place their dogs in kennels in a loading area where staff retrieves them once the customer has exited. Staff speak with customers briefly at checkout through a window to communicate information and answer any questions.

Inside the grooming salon, things have changed too. Her staff are now separated into different rooms with dedicated workstations, instead of being in one larger room together.

None of these changes have altered the core services of her business, only how she delivers them. All of these are great examples of a pivot.

Now that the changes have been made, Amber is evaluating what adjustments are permanent and what needs to be changed back as soon as conditions allow.

How to evaluate your pivot

Here are three steps to determine whether your pivot should be your “new normal”:

1) Listen…to everyone

As Amber has made these changes, she is listening. She is listening to staff, customers, and her own thoughts!

On our call this week she said, “We had a customer tell us they like our new system better! He said, ‘I just drop off my dog and am on my way. It is so simple!’”

As we talked about why the new model might be more appealing, Amber said that before, if three customers dropped off their dogs at the same time in the lobby, things could get a little crazy. Everyone was waiting to be checked in, dogs would be barking, and customers had to wait until they could pass their dogs to a staff person. Before the pivot, this just seemed a necessary step. Now, it was proving to be an avoidable situation.

Many of Amber’s staff seem to like the changes as well. She mentioned that everyone seems calmer. As we talked through this, she noted two major changes. First, was the change in the work area. Before the pivot, staff were bumping into each other around the grooming tables. Now, each groomer has a dedicated work area. Second, as the dogs are also more isolated, they are calmer, which impacts the staff greatly. Less barking. More peace.

Again, Amber is listening, not just to what people are saying, but to what is not being said (or barked). She is listening to the environment itself.

2) Financial Impact…seen and unseen

One surprise is that Amber and her team are grooming more dogs, on average, than before the pandemic. Part of this is pent-up demand, but it is also the new capacity she has built-in with the pivots she made.

She created this new capacity in two major ways. First, when everyone was in the room together, distractions abounded. A customer walked in, and everyone looked up and decided who would do the check-in. The phone rang, and everyone would look up to decide who was in the best place to answer it. These seemingly simple distractions greatly impacted productivity.

With the pivot, staff take turns in a receptionist role: prepping and retrieving dogs, completing the check-in process, making notes in the files, answering the phone, checking customers out, etc. Everyone else can focus 100% on their work. No distractions. Just grooming.

Another way they built more capacity was a consequence of having customers place their dogs in the kennels and pay online. This was a huge time-saver, reducing customer interaction. There is still a personal connection at pick-up where questions and concerns can be addressed. But with payments and drop-offs simplified, the amount of time dedicated to grooming has increased.

Yet even with this increase in capacity, Amber is losing sales in her lobby. Pet products, collars, treats, and similar items are not readily available to customers with this current arrangement. Does the increased capacity make up for the loss of lobby sales? Should she still offer these products? Could an online store be created, for curbside pick-up or shipping?

As this situation continues, Amber will be trying new ways to incorporate product sales without a lobby. Financially, this will be another area to watch closely as the situation develops.

3) Evaluate…wait… and evaluate again

As these changes have been in place for a couple of weeks, here is what we know: customers have given positive feedback, there is increased capacity, and her team finds the work environment more peaceful.

Amber said, “I would never have made such dramatic changes until I was forced to make them. But now that I am seeing the positives, it makes me wonder if I should keep things this way even after COVID-19.”

This is a GREAT observation. The answer is not a simple yes or no. If the changes were to be permanent, there would need to be some additional changes for the drop off-site, and the current lobby (now a work station) would need to be remodeled to truly make this a long term solution.

Should she spend the money to do it?

This leads us to the most critical step in the process: Evaluation.

As we are still in the midst of a rapidly changing environment, the answer is to continue to listen, continue to see the financial impact and continue to evaluate. The pivot that has been made is sustainable for a few more weeks, or months if need be.

If you have made a pivot and are thinking about making it permanent, continue to listen, look at the finances, and evaluate. For Amber moving forward, will feedback from customers remain positive as this change loses it newness? Will staff continue to thrive in this calm environment, or is everyone just making the best of a crazy situation? What will wear off, and what will stick? Time will tell.

The feedback thus far seems to make the answer obvious. So, now is the time to test assumptions, continue to listen, and continue to evaluate.

Questions & considerations as you decide

As you continue to evaluate your pivot, here are some helpful questions:

· If this is a permanent change, what are the steps to get there?

· Is there space to make this permanent?

· Are the finances available for a buildout?

· Should this wait until there is more clarity on business activities in the coming months?

· Are there some additional changes that need to be made to make the new system even better?

As time continues, the answer to what should stay and what should go will become more and more clear. Hold things loosely at this moment and confirm what seems to be working by letting it work a bit longer.

It may be helpful to write some notes at the end of each week to remember victories and challenges as you go.

Amber and her team are doing an amazing job of pivoting during this pandemic. They are adapting, serving their customers well, and learning new patterns that are moving their business forward.

Way to go, Amber (second from the right in the picture)!


Need help evaluating your COVID pivot?

Amy Lynne Coaching is located in Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN and works with solopreneurs and small business owners to help them reach their goals.

If you are interested in learning more about coaching with Amy Lynne Coaching, you can schedule a phone call here!

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