Pandemic pivot – Businesses ditch old strategies to surviveMadi Graham, a King of Pops neighborhood partner Augusta. Photo provided to Decaturish
By Crystal Jarvis, contributor
Atlanta, GA — King of Pops co-founder Steven Carse is working to become the king of pivots.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, all Steven had to do was stake his eye-catching popsicle carts at popular festivals where throngs of people gather to eat, be merry and soak up the sun.
Now, during the pandemic-driven economic collapse, festivals and events have been canceled, meaning sales opportunities were melting right before his eyes.
Carse cooked up a new idea: He launched the King of Pops Neighborhood Partner Program. Although Carse has always been committed to keeping his brand in the South, he pivoted his business model with the partner program to introduce his tasty pops in new territories as far away as Ocean City, New Jersey.
“I think we’re trying a bunch of different things that we wouldn’t have tried before,” Carse said. “You can do one of two things— you can either quit or keep trying new things and see what happens. The bulk of how we make money just isn’t happening so we have to try new things.”
Businesses across the Atlanta Metropolitan Statistical Area have resorted to pivoting their business models, altering their business strategies and even changing the products they sell to stay afloat during the global pandemic. Since masks, medical supplies and office equipment to help protect workers are in high demand, many businesses are now thriving — or at least surviving — by creating and selling those products until the market returns to some form of normalcy.
The King of Pops program is for business-minded “cart-trepreneurs” who have their ear to the ground in their own communities. They can rent the company’s ice cream carts and purchase the pops to sell on their own turfs.
Michael Vajda, who recently made his foray into the King of Pops business at the Oakhurst Farmers Market, said he sold more than 100 pops on his first day and feedback from customers was “overwhelmingly positive.”
“Right now, given the climate in 2020, we’re looking for any and all opportunities that make sense,” he said. “I think with the climate in Georgia, we could go all the way to October.”
This is not Carse’s first time making an epic business pivot. During the Great Recession in 2008, he founded King of Pops after losing his job in the insurance industry. His experience during the recession proved valuable. Amid this economic slowdown, he has also launched Rainbow Provisions to offer delivery services for his products, and he plans to release a line of kid-sized pops that will be known as the Prince of Pops.
There are opportunities for businesses that are flexible and creative.
“Some businesses more naturally can pivot than others,” said Erin Igleheart, Program Manager of Start:ME, an organization partnered with Emory University’s Goizueta Business School that provides a free 14-session training program for small businesses located in Clarkston, East Lake and Southside Atlanta. “We have a few businesses that have really thrived for a lack of a better way to put it.”
Local businesses that specialize in textiles and fashion, like Rochelle Porter Designs, Johari Africa and the Amani Women’s Center, have not only been able to pivot their business to offer fashion-forward masks— but they have created job opportunities for women with sewing talents who may lack childcare due to closed schools and summer programs. They can sew the masks and other clothing items on their own schedule and still be able to care for their children, Igleheart said.
“They are increasing a lot of economic opportunities for individuals, while also serving the greater needs for their communities,” she said. “This is a time to really bet on yourself, invest in your business and invest in your skills. Maybe things are a little bit slow right now but this is a really great time to continue to invest in yourself.”
Masks aren’t the only things in high demand right now. Grocery stores, beauty salons and some school districts have invested in plexiglass to create protective barriers between their employees and customers.
Luckily for Jim Davidson, the owner of Exhibitwise, he has all the materials on hand to create the much sought-after barriers.
Davidson, whose business specializes in creating marketing displays that can cost upwards of $20,000 for trade shows and business conferences, has pivoted his business to offer the plexiglass barriers with the very materials he once used to create the oversized backdrops.
“Every project we had going was off the table at that point and there’s no telling when trade shows are going to come back,” Davidson said. “There was a bit of a shockwave that happened.”
While its nothing close to what he was making before the health crisis, selling the plexiglass and logo-designed masks (out of the cloth materials usually used for the backdrops), Davidson has been able to stay afloat.
“We were able to adapt our stuff to the needs of the community, and the need was exploding,” he said. “The people that adapted very quickly stayed pretty busy.”
In another turn of business fortunes, many people who struggle with alcohol addiction during the pandemic are inquiring about Cannabidiol, also known as CBD.
Ashley and Scott Koester launched a CBD store — The Rose & Hemp — January, only to be forced to close up shop less than two months later. The couple scrambled to beef up their online store to continue to sell their CBD products, especially during a high-stress time when people have been inquiring about how uses of the chemical compound may help relieve stress.
“A lot of people have been saying they turned to alcohol, but are now trying to find a healthier alternative to help them relax and shut down some of that tension,” Ashley said. “One of the most common things we are seeing is an increase in the number of people looking to ail their anxiety, depression and sleepless nights.”
While not approved by the Federal Drug Administration, the chemical compound, which is found in marijuana and hemp, is used to relieve some symptoms of chronic pain, inflammation, anxiety and depression. Ashley, who suffered from Postpartum Depression, said CBD changed her life.
“It really kind of gave me part of my life and brain back that I didn’t know was possible,” she said.
The Koesters’ original plan was to attract customers with their store, which gives off “soda shop vibes,” Scott said. Guests could hang out at a 25-foot bar they built and try out products. Once the outbreak hit, they pivoted their business by boosting their online presence and by printing up menus and introducing sidewalk sales where people could safely shop outside while practicing social distancing.
“We are having a lot of increased repeat customers, so it seems to be helping in that area,” Scott said.
Pivoting has kept a number of businesses from shuttering their operations during the economic slowdown. And just like with Carse’s story, there may also be opportunities for people to start brand new businesses—even during rough times.
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