The Upside: Pandemic spawns product, market innovations

(First published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Marketing Pulse, November 30, 2020)

by Myrna Rodriguez Co

In the gloom and  doom of the economic scenario, anyone will  feel hard pressed to glimpse a silver lining.

Surprise, surprise! In recent virtual dialogues with members of the micro, small and medium enterprise (MSME) community —  said to be among the hardest hit economic sectors —  there seemed to be no shortage of optimistic “can do,”  “will-find-a-way” thinking. 

One of them said it best: “An opportunity amidst difficulty.’  Another calls the pandemic “a boon.”

Aida C. Madrono, who manages Eureka Toys and Games with husband, Chito and son Mick,  recalls how  the ensuing lockdown  opened an opportunity to reinvent the business.

When the crisis  set in, there was uncertainty about the demand for their  existing products, she recounts.  This compelled a review of product lines, past and present.  “We took a good look at one of our “sleeping” products – those we’ve stopped making. We found that our Kinder Kit , a game book for young kids, lends itself well to digital selling and stay-at-home learning.   With more time in our hands, we were able to upgrade its graphics and instruction manuals for the online market. ‘  At the moment,  the  improved Kinder Kit is ready for the holiday buying and gift-giving season.

Barbara Balce, owner of Babalicious Food Delivery Service, explains how the pandemic morphed into  a business boon.

‘With more and more people disposed to buy online, we reached more customers than ever before.  Would you believe we had to hire more people to cope with the increased demand?  I’d say we were reborn with the ‘new normal.’ How we now operate our business is based on the new normal.”

“With guarded optimism” is how Driven Marketing Group CEO Lubar de los Reyes describes his real-estate development company’s outlook on the “new normal.”’ 

He and his team are  very excited and at the same time very wary as they get ready for “things to settle down.”

“Excited —  because, while real-estate buyers are understandably cautious, they are also not about to abandon their home-ownership aspirations.  In fact, this is the best time to buy, with developers offering easy terms and banks easing up on interest rates.”

“Wary —  because we need complete,  clear and well=thought out guidelines from straight-thinking economic managers.  Without these, the economy will crash more deeply than before.”

On her part, artist-entrepreneur Precy Brady credits the crisis for catalyzing creativity,.

Her PGB Kiddie Art Worshops has been conducting summer courses for children since 1994.  It also goes on yearly mall tours for kids in cooperation with corporate sponsors.  “No thanks to the pandemic, most of these activities were scrapped this year. ‘

Shifting to digital marketing, the company opened online workshops last April, meeting many constraints in the process.  “We had to invest in new technology: more cameras; better lighting; new apps; and a more reliable wifi connection. The shift also entailed tedious preparations to make online learning more interesting and exciting.  Another challenge is accessing art materials in the face of broken supply chains.   All these challenged us to be resourceful and creative.”

Precy thinks her team has responded well to the challenge.  “Equipped with a  new package of innovative lesson plans and online exercises, we are more prepared for our task  of teaching youngsters  to appreciate art and produce artwork.”

At the beginning of the lockdown, Rory Rebustes of Citrus Snap Photography avoided stressing out by addressing immediate concerns, like helping workers cope.  ‘Luckily we are a small team, and we have managed to pay them from our modest stash. “  The company  has  also managed to contribute to the effort of supporting frontliners and the community at large.  Meanwhile, Rory is spending her time productively by learning new skills, like  digital marketing and innovative  approaches to the photography business—skills which she hopes will help the business bounce back faster. 

The crisis also seems to have triggered diversification.  Passion for Perfection Consultancy Services,  essentially a management training outfit, made new investments in agribusiness. Co-owner Rene “TRex” Resurreccion sums up  his disaster-management strategy:

“We are surviving on a work-from-home operational mode, a forced-savings habit, and a working business continuity plan.”

 Unlike many of their colleagues in the business community, the entrepreneurs  featured here are not about to give in to despair.  They are rather on their toes,  looking out for every opportunity, however small  and hard to find. 

 They are perhaps also  mindful of these enigmatic lines attributed to Sir Winston Churchill:

  “You never want to waste a serious crisis.”