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Pivot to survive

by EN

Alan Craner, director of Exhibit 3 Sixty, explains how his stand design and build business is weathering the pandemic storm.

Whatever your opinion of the current crisis it will, eventually, spawn a raft of new businesses. A quick glance at LinkedIn shows many people who have been unfortunate to lose their jobs through no fault of their own, pick themselves up, work out what they have to offer to their peers and possible customers, and create new opportunities for themselves.

Sometimes, it looks like an attractive proposition, to step back, take a clean sheet of paper and reinvent yourself. Some, I suspect, will rejoin mainstream industry players once the market picks itself up and restarts. For those of us with existing businesses it’s not such an easy proposition.

The weight of responsibility weighs heavy on many small and medium sized business owners. My fellow director Andy Pearce and I are no exception.

However, the faith we have in what we do, the team we have spent a decade to build, and the sheer joy we derive from doing what we ‘do’ isn’t easily diminished. But, and it’s a very big BUT, there is no ‘do’ to do. Not at the moment.

So how do we protect what we have, support those we employ, and keep the business in shape to be ready for any opportunities that will arise once the exhibition industry reopens?

The current vogue is to say “pivot” – we had up until now called it evolving and adapting.

Good old marketing theory and Russian mathematician Igor Ansoff hits the nail on the head in his famous matrix – diversification is the most painful thing to do – new products into new markets, a world of unknowns.

There isn’t an existing market into which we can take new products so that left us with existing products into new markets. We have specialist skills, materials, knowledge and facilities so where could we apply them, where else do the skill-sets we have match most closely to a market need?

Convinced that I would not be the only person going through this thought process, a quick look on LinkedIn at our peers in ESSA membership was reassuring – burgeoning wood fired pizza businesses were starting, garden furniture was being made, stylish bespoke office furniture, staircases, fitted kitchens and studies, and even caskets. It gladdens my heart to see my peers ‘pivoting’ like crazy, we really are a creative and inventive bunch – maybe there’s an opportunity to bring some of these together, perhaps not the latter one, not yet.

But back to our predicament, we can build amazing exhibition stands. Stands are essentially a method of showing products and services to a customer base for a short time in an exhibition hall, what if we simply looked at the same delivery but in a different location?

One obvious market was retail fit outs. We reviewed our customer base, looking to those who may be refurbishing showrooms, retail stores, and displays. These are places where our knowledge of designing structures to make products look amazing can flourish, our knowledge of design, materials, electrics, paint and finishes gives us something we can add to this market.

Add to that the mindset of a team who are used to working within the structures of build-up times in busy halls, getting materials in and out, and having the job signed off and open in a matter of a couple of days, and we have found our lifeline.

We have now completed three projects and it does feel good to be hands on, back in the workshop and on site, creating engaging physical spaces. It will, with luck and a fair wind, help us to reach the other side of Covid-19.

Will it be a permanent new business direction for us? Probably not. Exhibitions are addictive, it’s where we are comfortable and it’s what we love doing but at the moment we, like many others, will ‘pivot’ to survive.

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