COVID-19

Covid silver lining for businesses

New businesses have also launched since the pandemic, with more than 365,000 entering the market in the year to June 30, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics – more than either of the two previous years.Start-up expert and director of partnerships at HR software company Compono Raife Watson said financial support from the government over the past 18 months had helped.“In the last recession, we didn’t have the government stimulus so people were just trying to make ends meet, but with these (Covid-19) hand outs it has allowed the breathing room for people to pivot and start businesses,” he said.Mr Watson said people working from home were also finding more time to launch and work on side hustles.“I’m sure bosses hate to hear this but suspect it,” he said.“They can be working full time and also work on the project they have really wanted to do.”SUPPORT FOR LOCAL AND FAMILY BUSINESSFamily Business Australia chief executive Greg Griffith said 80 per cent of FBA members were in a stronger position now than when the pandemic started, and this was partly a result of consumers’ loyalty to supporting local and family businesses during tough times.Mr Griffith was not sure if there had been an increase in new family businesses over the last 18 months but reported a “massive increase” in FBA membership.“Normally we would grow about 4 to 5 per cent year on year, and we are seeing 10 to 12 per cent, depending on areas,” he said.LOCKDOWNS CREATING DEMANDSpecific products and services have boomed since the pandemic, rewarding businesses in the right place at the right time.Mr Griffith gave the example of family-owned mattress company A.H. Beard, which had initially put staff on hold and shut down operations when the pandemic hit.As Australians began looking for ways to make lockdown more comfortable, “bed sales went through the roof”.“They put staff back on and back-paid them and had to employ extra people to keep up,” Mr Griffith said.“They also gave the money they received through JobKeeper back to the government – a contribution of over $1 million.”SOLVING NEW PROBLEMSNathan Schokker and Sandy Lokas developed “un-hackable” contact tracing app SafeVisit with the hope it would be picked as the Queensland Government’s check-in app.They missed out but adapted the platform and in February launched SafeTicket, combining digital event ticketing and contact tracing in one app.“When someone gets to an event, they can scan one QR code to validate their ticket and it pushes them across to the Qld check-in app so they can complete their contact tracing as well,” Mr Schokker said.Mr Schokker, who is president of the Brisbane Junior Chamber of Commerce, said the BJCC was also a shareholder in the business, so at least 10 per cent of profits were injected back into the local business community.BJCC members who lost jobs during the pandemic are among SafeTicket’s seven employees.Mr Schokker said the business was fast-approaching $1 million in revenue, having supported more than 50 events and recently brought on board for Heavy Vehicle Industry Australia’s Brisbane Truck Show in 2023.“We see the BTS as our first major step towards our own lofty goal of being the ticketing provider for the 2032 Olympics,” he said.A RETURN TO THE SUBURBSWith more people working from home, CBDs have emptied, putting the pressure on inner-city businesses that rely on midweek foot traffic.On the flip side, however, this has created opportunities in the suburbs.Protein smoothie shop Shakez, in Melbourne’s Armadale, has been booming as weekend customers now come in Monday to Friday.Founder Ash Sridhar said more people had discovered the business once their movement was limited during lockdowns.“They noticed their local area a bit more,” he said.“People working from home come in, grab a shake and walk for 20 minutes then go back to work.“People walk around with their shake and on their Airpods working. “Covid has been very unfortunate (in general), but it’s been the other way around for us.”ADAPTING THE MODELAdelaide Central Market trader Smelly Cheese Co is one of countless businesses that adapted their business model to not only stay afloat but become stronger.Cheese expert and owner Valerie Henbest said they began offering digital cheese and wine masterclasses and this opened the business up to a wider audience.“The world instantly grew in front of our eyes and borders meant nothing more than making sure the freight companies could deliver our goods on time and in perfect condition everywhere in Australia,” she said.“We have also launched a Smelly Cheese Subscription Box to be delivered monthly to anyone keen to discover new cheeses regularly and in the comfort of their own home.”Ms Henbest said the Adelaide Central Market launched a new home delivery service, too, allowing them to reach new customers.Although business would never return to its pre-pandemic form, she did not consider this a negative.“Far from it – we are all a lot stronger and working more efficiently for it,” she said.

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