The only viable path forward for your business during any crisis is innovation. There is no percentage in tentativeness.
The only viable path forward for your business during any crisis is innovation. There is no percentage in tentativeness. I am writing this in the middle of April, so by the time of publication, it is likely that things would have changed. Yet whether the business situation around is more stable or less than it had been does not matter. The future belongs to the innovators and the bold in the best of times and the worst. It is the bold and the innovators who will hit the ground running and succeed when things settle.
At a CEO roundtable I held in Tokyo at the end of March 2020 as much of Europe and the United States were in lockdown, and Japan was on the cusp of declaring a state of emergency, one CEO spoke about how he was implementing enclosed spaces in retail facilities across Japan that are meant to accommodate one customer and one salesperson at a time. The space is disinfected after each use. Other CEOs who heard this idea realised they could do the same thing in their own businesses, even though each business was vastly different from the others.
An executive in charge of car dealerships told me that now, more than ever, virtual catalogues and digital car configuration tools that the company had developed previously are important and no longer nice-to-have add-on to a sales person’s toolbox as customer interactions will likely have to occur outside the showroom in the near future. In addition, I suggested that if you cannot bring the customer to showroom, then bring the showroom to the customer. Even if showrooms remain closed, a salesperson can still bring a car to customer for test drive.
The same is already happening at restaurants in New York, USA, for example. If you cannot bring diners to the restaurant, then bring the food to the diners. Even high-end restaurants that used to turn their noses up at take-out and delivery are now offering these options, using convenient online services like Doordash, as there is no alternative. Even after restaurants re-open, I suspect that take-out and delivery options will persist and become routine, even for high-end restaurants.
The CEO of a company in Japan that makes food products told me that he is seeing demand from large retail spaces beginning to flatten after an initial spike at the onset of the crisis, while noting increased interest from convenience stores, a segment in which the company only had moderate success up to now. Consumers are apparently avoiding large retail spaces with lots of people, where one spends a lot of time in the store, in favour of small retail spaces with fewer people, where one can quickly enter, make a purchase, and leave within minutes. The company is now looking at innovating products, packaging, delivery, and sales methods to serve convenience store customers—all of which will serve the business well after the crisis is over.
In addition, what about large grocery retailers? If you cannot bring the consumer to the grocery store, then bring the grocery store to the customer. Japanese mass retailer AEON, who has long had an online grocery shopping service, I suspect will see increased volume in the coming weeks. The AEON online shopping landing page features a variety of recipe kits with all the ingredients needed to whip up a meal for two, including meat, chopped vegetables, spices, and sauces. Consider young urban couples and singles who now have to refrain from eating out and might even be sick of delivery. They now have the option to have freshly cooked meals instead and these kits will likely hit the right spot.
Working from home, which had long encountered resistance in Japan, is increasingly a necessity. Communication services are already seeing a spike in demand, but so is demand for all the home office accouterments—devices, computers, and even furniture! Japanese manufacturers like Nitori are well positioned to service demand with their online shop.
In sports, there is no percentage in playing just a defensive game. In business, it is the same. Keep moving, keep innovating, and hit the ground running!
So what are you doing in your business?
Mr Steven Bleistein is CEO of Tokyo-based consulting firm Relansa, Inc, and the sought-after expert on rapid business growth and change. He is the author of Rapid Organizational Change (Wiley 2017), and writes for The Straits Times.
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