The threat of Covid-19 spread ferociously throughout the globe, leaving us vulnerable to not only a virus but a seemingly endless domino effect of supply chain issues. This caused many logistical nightmares for businesses, municipalities, and more, exposing how unprepared even the US government was to deal with a crisis of this magnitude.
One of the most troubled products were face masks. “Although China increased its mask production tenfold in just 2 months (January–March, 2020), it was estimated that global demand for surgical masks might be ten times higher than world production capacity prior to the COVID–19 crisis (OECD, 2020a).”
There is a silver lining though, as crisis often catalyzes innovation, forcing people to view things from a different lens altogether. Though getting hands on PPE seemed impossible, there were many businesses that had connections to manufacturers in other parts of the world and leveraged that to pivot their business offerings to include facemasks and more.
I personally saw some interesting pivots within some of the small businesses that I have worked with. Some of them felt it was their duty to help fill a needs gap in their local communities, and others seemed to come to a realization that they could temporarily capitalize on the increased demand. Here are some examples:
- A local vodka distiller, repurposed their alcohol and even their packaging, outfitting 1.75mil handles and boxed alcohol bladders with pumps to dispense hand sanitizer. They were able to sell this new product extension to their existing hospitality clients in hotels and restaurants.
- A safety supply company whose regular product catalog consisted of safety equipment such as goggles and steel-toed boots, was able to use their connections to existing safety supplies manufacturers in China to secure containers worth of PPE, and had no issue unloading them to their client base who was looking for protective equipment for their staff.
- A local retailer of custom apparel realized she had the connections in place to sew layered fabric masks with some of her signature light-hearted designs on them. For every mask sold, she donated one to local healthcare workers. Her campaign was so successful, in the first 24 hours, over 600 masks were donated.
As a startup with so many facets of business-ownership already on your plate, it is hard to factor in contingencies for something as unpredictable as supply chain issues. But being agile enough to pivot in fast-moving situations will allow for you to come up with innovative tweaks to keep your business afloat and successful even during the hardest of times.