An old adage suggests that “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.” But for manufacturers, an adapted version might be, “When the going gets tough, the tough get smart.” But how do you get smart when multiple business-threatening disasters seem to be occurring all at once? It’s a question our leadership team, along with so many others, faced this spring as the U.S. coronavirus public health threat deepened and businesses were forced to make some tough decisions. I’ve learned a few things along the way.
My goal at my company was first to maintain our business processes and output as much as possible to keep employees busy and avoid any layoffs. Second, I wanted to identify any way we could help our fellow citizens during this emergency. I’m pleased to report we were successful on both counts, and I’d like to share the steps we took in the hope it might help other manufacturers find their own solution.
1. Identify a need and how you can meet it.
There’s not a manufacturer in existence that couldn’t make something that is in high demand once a need is identified. Take a step back to examine what’s happening in the marketplace and determine how your facilities can best be utilized. Think about how you can use your equipment and support your people.
For example, several textile manufacturers have transitioned part of their capacity to make personal protection equipment for medical personnel. I believe there’s an option for just about every business. Don’t be afraid to be bold. In the case of my company, we knew our bottle-filling capabilities and previous work with tinctures and lotions could be engaged to manufacture hand sanitizer, a product that’s currently experiencing a shortage.
2. Create new ways to conduct business.
Restaurants are redeploying wait staff as delivery drivers and introducing curbside service. Service industries like hair salons and massage therapists are introducing online product sales to generate revenue. For manufacturers, it’s important to examine customers’ changing environments and find new ways to adapt operations to meet new realities.
For example, I observed a Denver-based manufacturer of whiteboards and sticky notes — whose audience is typically working professionals and educators — adapt when offices and classrooms were indefinitely shuttered. To react swiftly and avoid layoffs or furloughs, the business started creating a bundled “work from home” kit of its most popular products, thus allowing it to shift its sales efforts toward the suddenly expanding home office and remote teaching market.
Solving a new consumer problem might mean straying from your company’s traditional role. In the case of hand sanitizer, we, a CBD depot, briefly discussed including CBD in the hand sanitizer my company developed. However, the components that make hand sanitizer effective and that make CBD effective are vastly different, as are the reasons consumers use each product. In the end, we determined that an effective hand sanitizer was what would best support consumers at this moment.
3. Leverage your existing wholesaler relationships in creative ways.
When we decided to develop a hand sanitizer, we scoured our wholesaler relationships to ensure we could source the materials needed to create a top-quality product on a large scale. Along the way, we realized we could source respirator masks. Although far outside our traditional business, we knew these masks could help fill a need and support our community, as well as our employees.
The bottom line is to think creatively. Don’t quit, and don’t stop searching for new solutions. In our own case, we faced a shortage of stock for isopropyl alcohol (a key ingredient in hand sanitizer). So, we engaged our wholesaler network and found a truckload of alcohol we could purchase to ensure we had an ample supply to continue manufacturing hand sanitizer.
4. Seize the opportunity to reach a new market.
Manufacturers concerned about diluting their primary mission should rethink any opposition to veering from their pre-crisis product offerings. Although the new customers you gain might feel temporary, the opportunity to provide them with a needed product gives you the chance to introduce your brand to an entirely new market.
You are giving consumers an entirely new reason to know your brand. If you do it correctly — and, most importantly, with sincerity and empathy — they’ll remember the help they received from your brand when they’re considering products in the future that fall within your traditional offerings.
5. Continue to serve your core customers.
My company was intent on ensuring we did not ignore our core customers throughout the crisis. We know many of our retailers are in a similar situation to us: They’re working to keep customers engaged and scrambling for solutions that can help them stay afloat. It’s important as a manufacturer that any temporary new direction you pursue can be used to provide assistance to the customers who depend upon you. For example, in addition to maintaining the products and services for our “forever” customers, my company offered white label hand sanitizer products retailers can provide to their consumers.
Keep in mind there will be challenges at every turn. You might get pushback from senior executives, midlevel managers or rank-and-file employees. In today’s crisis, you’ll need to ensure that any measures you take to keep employees working also include efforts to keep them safe at work. Unforeseen barriers and new issues will arise every day. But stay vigilant, and keep a “never quit” attitude. In the end, your employees, shareholders and — perhaps most importantly — consumers will reward the business.