Heather Clark is preparing to pivot back after the pandemic.
Last March, her company, Phoenix-based Pomchies, was on life support after orders for headwear, scrunchies, and lanyards dried up. She quickly switched to manufacturing face masks and business took off.
Pomchies is one of thousands of American companies that made an abrupt turn from one business or service to another. Other transformations include distilleries switching to making hand sanitizer and booking platforms changing their service to fit their customers’ needs.
And now, with a vaccine available in the United States and the end of the pandemic hopefully near, they’re asking: What’s next?
What will happen after the pandemic?
Clark is betting that there will be a lot of demand for travel in 2021. She’s busy developing several new travel-related products, including mask holders and a travel pack.
“I feel that after the pandemic is over that people will want to travel,” she says.
The ability to pivot quickly has been a key to surviving the pandemic.
“The pandemic and its aftermath accelerated existing trends and exposed the greatest strategic challenge of all — resilience,” says Jeff Kavanaugh, coauthor of “The Living Enterprise: Create a Continuously Evolving and Learning Organization.” “In the greatest business disruption in living memory, agile organizations have proven best equipped to pivot and survive.”
Who is pivoting back after the pandemic?
Pomchies isn’t the only business trying to pivot back. In a sense, every business is thinking about what happens after the pandemic ends. They range from a travel agency offering dual-citizenship programs to a career site carving out a new “workcation” niche. Even big companies are rethinking their post-pandemic business plans.
“In today’s economy, the strongest companies are pivoting,” says Amy Wilkinson, a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business who specializes in business disruption. “But they are doing it at the speed of startups. Entrepreneurial thinking needs to be a part of every company’s 2021 plans.”
The post-pandemic pivots are diverse. After people stopped traveling, Embark Beyond, a travel agency based in New York, launched a dual citizenship program that helps clients obtain foreign citizenship and second passports by descent for 15 European Union countries. Jack Ezon, the company’s managing partner, says his company decided to pivot after talking to clients. “Being the pariah of the world this past summer was a wakeup call for many, and we started getting requests for people to look into ways to get a foreign passport,” he says.
Getting a foreign passport can be complicated. It often requires finding documents, having them notarized and certified, and then getting a seal called an apostille. Embark’s program helps customers navigate the process.
“We have a waitlist of almost 100 people pre-launch, with an average of four requests per family,” says Ezon.
Another casualty of the travel stoppage was Career Gappers, a platform that inspires and prepares people to take travel career breaks. “As you can imagine, the events of this year have thrown a spanner in the works,” says Alex Trembath, co-founder of the company. “Not only has long-term travel become much more challenging as a result of the pandemic, but people are being much more cautious about taking the perceived risk of a career break or sabbatical.”
Career Gappers’ post-pandemic pivot? Tapping into the workcations trend, which is being driven by the pandemic.
“With so many people having newfound flexibility to work from home, it has opened up possibilities for a different way of experiencing destinations: working while you are there,” says Trembath.
The site just published a guide to workcations, which covers how to prepare for one, how to get the most out of it, making arrangements for your workplace, and great destinations for workcations.
How fast should you pivot back after the pandemic?
Many companies will pivot in the coming months as the pandemic fades. But when? That’s a question on the minds of the founders of Rafi Nova, a fair-trade travel accessories brand. Like Pomchies, it switched to manufacturing face masks during the pandemic.
“As people begin traveling again, we anticipate an increase in demand for our travel accessories,” says Rafi Nova CEO Marissa Goldstein. “However initially, many may not be comfortable traveling. We think families will want to travel if supported by a heightened sense of safety. The demand for masks won’t disappear but customers are now looking for new ways to get out, explore and feel safe. We’ll balance our PPE by expanding our manufacturing to meet those demands.”
What happens after the Scottemask?
Another travel apparel manufacturer, SCOTTeVEST is also grappling with a pandemic pivot. Scott Jordan, the company’s CEO, just introduced a product called the Scottemask, a multifunctional mask with multiple levels of breathability and protection. But he also says there will be a shift back to the traditional travel clothing that his company develops.
“After an extremely difficult time selling travel clothing last summer during the pandemic, we are having a tremendous holiday season,” he says. “While in a typical business model, it is relatively simple to estimate demand, the pandemic has brought about so much uncertainty, which complicates estimations. Many are still hesitant about the vaccine and simply do not know when or if they will feel comfortable traveling again. It is likely that we will have to make business decisions on a situational basis, rather than relying on estimations.”
How Pomchies plans to pivot back after the pandemic
Before she started selling masks, Clark’s business was over 95% wholesale sales to several thousand retailer stores. Only about 5% of sales went to roughly 1,000 retail customers. Since pivoting to masks, Pomchies has gained approximately 35,000 loyal retail customers and 6,000 followers on social media. Sales to retail customers now account for about 30% of total sales.
Clarks 2021 pivot is based on converting these new retail customers to buy her entire Pomchies product line.
“This emphasis on retail sales will transform her company from wholesale-facing to retail-facing, requiring a completely new sales and marketing emphasis,” she says. “But the bet on converting these retail customers from buying masks to buying her other accessories is not a sure thing.”
Clark believes she has until March to get it right.
“After March, demand for masks will taper off, ultimately becoming a continued fashion accessory for a small percentage of the population,” she says.
Until then, she is continuing to introduce new designs and products such as a mask holder, reversible masks and a travel pack with Pomchies’ top-selling product, the Pom-Id luggage identifier.
Want to pivot back after the pandemic? It’s all about resilience
Greg Githens, who wrote the book “How to Think Strategically,” says a lot of businesses are thinking about pivoting now. They know they’ll have to pivot again as the pandemic ends, but they don’t know what to pivot to, or when.
To answer those questions, you have to consider your assumptions about 2021, he says. When do you expect your business to return to normal? Do you anticipate the emergence of another pandemic or some other external shock? Are you considering changes to the workforce, like the emergence of a hybrid “work from anywhere” model combined with a “return to office” model? What might your competitors do to cope with emerging changes, and how does this affect your rivalry and value propositions?
The answers may change from day to day. But there is one thing that will ensure your success, adds Githens: It’s resilience — a personal and business capacity that includes anticipation, preparation, and openness to surprise.
“Resilience has been one of the most-often used words of 2020, but few people have a good understanding of its whats and whys,” he says. “Those who increase their capacity for resilience will gain competitive advantage.”