What Coronavirus Has Taught Me About Business | sheerluxe.com
The toll coronavirus has taken on businesses – both large and small – has been significant and, in some cases, devastating. But if there’s been one silver lining to the global pandemic, it’s the determination of business owners to do everything they can to pivot, survive and rally the troops. Here, owner of Mirabeau Wines Jeany Cronk and FLOWERBX founder Whitney Bromberg Hawkings tell us what they've learnt...
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First of all, how are you both coping?  
“Thanks for asking! It has been an absolute rollercoaster of emotions – from total shock and awe, all the way to accepting that this is the ‘new normal’. It’s been a real challenge to find different ways to cope and be creative around it.” – Jeany Cronk

“So many people ask if I am enjoying this “down time” – ha! Honestly, I’ve never been busier in my entire life. I’m not complaining but, between trying to pivot our business, expand our delivery across the US, home schooling and fundraising, my new normal is a total blur. Not to mention the constant emotional roller coaster – from feeling overwhelmed with gratitude for the health of those I love as well as my own,  to concern  and anxiety about all the sadness in the world, to pride for my  family and team to adapting so well to extremely  challenging circumstances, to despair at so many people left grieving with lives ruined from the current crisis.” – Whitney Bromberg Hawkings

And how is business right now? 
“Business is very heterogeneous; we have some sales channels that are working perfectly well (particularly when it comes to online and the supermarkets) and some with zero activity. Broadly speaking, it’s a very mixed picture, but we are grateful for the level of trading we have been able to conserve, and to our loyal customers who have supported Mirabeau, and allowed us to stay in business.” – Jeany 

“Our business has historically been 50% direct-to-consumer and 50% B2B (which is mainly comprised of events and contracts). The B2B portion of our business literally went off a cliff in March with no return in sight. That said, mercifully our consumer business has gone parabolic as the need to stay connected, send love and celebrate from afar with flowers has gone into overdrive. There’s also the obvious well-being aspect of having flowers and plants in one’s home – it’s the place where we are literally spending all of our time right now. Luckily the uptick in B2C sales has helped make up for the loss of event and B2B revenue.” – Whitney 

What has been your approach with your employees, both practically and pastorally? 
“We’re a very tight family unit at Mirabeau, and we talk all the time. We share both private and work news, as well as our favourite cocktail recipes and the more surreal moments we’ve experienced during lockdown – be it trying to do a Zoom call with a kid on our lap or discussing our latest Netflix addiction. It’s been really important to make sure everyone knew where the business stood, and what we were doing to mitigate the damage. Our team has been amazing, both in terms of spirit and creativity, which is exactly what we try and foster at all times. This is a tough time for everyone and adjustments have to be made, but it has also bonded us even more. I feel like we’re looking really positively towards the future.” – Jeany 

“We’ve launched an employee flower subscription, which means that all employees receive monthly flowers of their choice to help lift their spirits. We’ve also tried to be as communicative as possible – transparency and communication are so crucial in times like these.” – Whitney 

What have you’ve noticed in terms of your customers’ behaviour?  
“As far as our trade customers are concerned, we’ve offered as much support as possible. That includes a ton of virtual work, like tastings, and upping our digital work to support them. We always try to be upbeat and present for our end customers on all our digital channels to give as much virtual love as possible. Encouragingly, people have had more time to engage, so we’ve had more online conversations – I often spend half the night awake on the phone chatting to our audience, which has brought about many unexpected happy moments. We’ve also had conversations that were very hard – but we are proud to have been there for our followers at a time when people are turning to brands which they trust. We’ve also wanted to show as much support as possible in gifting wine (as much as our finance director has allowed) and have partnered with other great brands to make giveaways extra fun and interesting. For many people, that’s been a wonderful distraction.” – Jeany 

“People are really engaging with FLOWERBX more than ever. We have never seen so much social engagement or such positive growth in our newsletter database – which has grown over 15% in the past couple of months. The conversion rate from our newsletter has also more than doubled since the lockdown, as people have had time to engage with content they otherwise might have been too busy to read.” – Whitney 

This is a tough time for everyone and adjustments have to be made, but it has also bonded us even more. I feel like we’re looking really positively towards the future.
Jeany Cronk
The crisis has also reminded people of the importance of emotional connection, something that has gotten lost in recent years. I hope we can hold onto this as we navigate the new reality.
Whitney Bromberg Hawkings

Are there ways in which you’ve pivoted the business in response to what’s been going on? 
“We’ve definitely pivoted even more online – even though we’re probably the most digitally conscious Provençal Rosé brand out there already. It’s also been incredibly important to us to support a number of initiatives, such as fundraising for Feed NHS over Easter and donating wine to a slew of different charity auctions. Right now, we’re also working on a new initiative supporting another charity – more to follow!” – Jeany 

“We’ve delivered flowers three times a week to different NHS hospitals across London, which we started on Mother’s Day. It might not be life-changing, but it’s amazing what a difference a small thing of beauty can make during these challenging times. Elsewhere, we’ve made our B2C channel our primary focus and really doubled-down on this growth opportunity.” – Whitney 

What advice would you give women – some of whom might be earlier in their business journey – who are struggling right now? 
“I can only acknowledge how devastating it must be when you’re ready to spread your wings and then something like this happens. First, it’s very important to access any help out there, so research is important – if you don’t ask, you don’t get. You may also need to go into a hibernation period to watch your cashflow. This is frustrating when you have so many plans, but you need to conserve your resources. I’ve been extremely careful with any spending and have also relied on exchanging favours and finding less costly ways to get my message out there. Many others are in the same situation, so cooperation is a good and inexpensive way to amplify your voice. If you can afford to think countercyclical, then do. You can negotiate much better deals at the moment, and if you’re able to spend a little or take a little risk, it’s a good time to do so. Digital influencers have also been so kind and helped many smaller businesses get some traction through the #supportsmall movement – it’s one of the things you can make use of for free. Lastly, and this is way easier said than done, remain faithful in your product or service. This is an exceptional situation and is no reflection on the underlying validity of your idea, it’s simply a terrible moment in history. We have to dig deep and survive.” – Jeany 

“We all have to focus on the light at the end of the tunnel. Being old enough to have lived and worked through the recession in 2008 with a small child and another baby on the way, a hefty mortgage and wage cuts and general financial uncertainty, I know how heavy it all feels but also that it does get better. That’s one thing to remember: we will get through this and come out on the other side stronger.” – Whitney 

What’s your long-term view in terms of how your business might change for the future?
“Our business has certainly changed and we will have to live with the aftershocks of this health crisis on many levels. It feels like a re-set of sorts and we do feel people will change some of their behaviour for good. We’re sure the digital world will come out of this with even more people buying direct, but we also believe people have – to some extent – gone back to basics and learnt to appreciate certain things again. For example, many of us have learnt to cook at home and research what we drink rather than just being fed something on a restaurant menu. All of this will probably change the way people live and consume goods. We plan to amplify and build out our digital work to give people more relevant content and show them how many things they can do with our products at home. Mirabeau has also just launched a more affordable Cuvée which has come at exactly the right time, as people might have to be more budget conscious. It still allows them a luxurious moment.” – Jeany 

“This will continue to be an exceptionally difficult climate, but as we’ve been a digitally native, e-commerce company from the beginning, I’m hopeful we can continue to navigate the changing landscape with minimal disruption and grow.” – Whitney 

On a personal level, what has the crisis taught you? 
“That we are a resilient team here at Mirabeau, and that we’ve really got each other’s backs. It’s also been a lesson in upping creativity and pushing forward when most of the rules you know are suspended. Teamwork has also been more important than ever, and we will all come out of this with a few new skills and quite a few updated plans.” – Jeany 

“I am blown away by how my team has transitioned so beautifully into remote working. Times like these really show you who “steps up” and I’m so proud of the team for doing this so graciously and working harder than ever to keep the dream of FLOWERBX alive. My children have shown equal resilience and good natured flexibility adapting to this new way of life, and I do think and hope this insane experience will give them a new appreciation and sense of gratitude. And, of course, my husband has been a total star – but that’s nothing new.” – Whitney 

Are there any positives you see coming from all of this?
“Many of us have learnt a lot about how much we take our liberty for granted, and the value of human closeness. Maybe we will appreciate each other more and be kinder to one another (rather than just talk about it). I really hope all those amazing businesses and entrepreneurs that have taken a hit will, with time, regroup and that people will be supportive in using those products and services in a more conscious way.” – Jeany 

“This crisis has woken us up to act like a brand new start up again. We’re asking ourselves: what has worked and what hasn’t? Who do we want to be and how do we want to exist in the future? It’s been an opportunity to rethink the business – but with the hindsight of experience – which is an incredible opportunity and one we must use wisely. The crisis has also reminded people of the importance of emotional connection, something that has gotten lost in recent years. I hope we can hold onto this as we navigate the new reality.” – Whitney 

Visit MirabeauWine.com and FLOWERBX.com

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