Nearly 60% of businesses that were shuttered as a result of the COVID pandemic will not reopen. That’s more than 100,000 businesses. The restaurant industry has been particularly impacted, with nearly $250 Billion in losses predicted. Yet, some restaurateurs have managed not just to survive but to pivot in a manner that sets their businesses up for a bright future. Their approaches provide insight for any business— not only restaurants— into how to pivot and delight customers through chaos.
Richard Zoob, a seasoned restaurateur and co-Founder of Right Coast Taqueria, which managed to pivot and actually received an abundance of business, joined me on the Drive Profit with Purpose podcast to discuss what made his purposeful pivot possible. Rich emphasized three aspects that formed the foundation of Right Coast’s pivot:
– Build a strong brand identity
– Listen to the changing needs of customers
– Remain steadfast to your purpose
1. Build A Strong Brand Identity
When you’ve aligned your three keys— purpose, values, and story— and you authentically and consistently live them, your brand will not only attract customers but believers. People will come to you if you’re good at what you do, but they will stay with you, particularly when the chips are down— if they believe in you and what you stand for. At Right Coast, the brand’s very essence is a community-oriented, friendly place where you don’t just come to eat. You come to experience. As Zoob says: “You’re just not a restaurant, you’re a part of their lives.”
The foundation for building an authentic brand starts with the team. Right Coast, from day one, has established a team that is so passionate about the company’s values and purpose that they happily do the work of a team double their size. This intersection of values and purpose creates believers both internally and externally, and those are the people that stick with you when the whole world is enveloped in chaos.
2. Listen to your customers
When you are purposeful, your business is never about just selling things. Your purpose is the place where what you passionately do well meets with what the market wants. Markets are continually changing. This is magnified when the world around us undergoes massive shifts like we saw at the beginning of the pandemic. To pivot purposefully, you need to be attuned to your customer base and ask yourself how their needs and demands changed. For Right Coast, with such a community-focused purpose, they listened to their customers talk about their concerns about where their next meal would come from. They realized that the community was struggling with losing a major source of meals for their kids since schools were closed. So they collaborated with an aligned organization, No Kid Hungry, to ensure that every child in the community, in their community, had fresh, free meals every day. By turning their ear to the broader market, they realized that outlying communities had a desire for their product but were just a little too far to visit their location consistently. So, they pivoted to pop-ups and food trucks, thereby expanding their market without massive expenses such as leases and build-outs that accompany brick-and-mortar expansion. When you listen intently to the market, it will guide you where to go.
3. Remain Steadfast in your Purpose
“It was pretty scary the first week when the pandemic hit, and we saw our sale absolutely get obliterated,” Zoob shared. But after refocusing and doubling down on purpose, they gained clarity. For Right Coast or any other business that needs to change, you have to ensure that your foundations are solid. When everything around you is chaotic, you need the stability of purpose to help you see where the opportunity for change lies. And when you pivot, your customers will realize that you are still the business they know, trust, and rely upon. Your purpose not only becomes your firm ground, it becomes the firm ground of your customers who know that even when things change, you are still you.
The businesses that were best primed to pivot and survive when COVID hit were the ones that were already focused on creating purposeful cultures and aligned teams that genuinely listened to their customers. As Richard Zoob says, “The footprints we laid down before the pandemic started… helped us really drive right through it.” The COVID crisis isn’t over, and there’s always a new crisis that’s brewing, even though most won’t always be as far-reaching and pervasive as a global pandemic. But one thing is for sure; businesses will always face uncertainty— shifting economies, trends, and market needs. If you haven’t yet clarified your message, brand foundation, and community base, it’s time to get started. Evaluate your organization’s purpose so that you can internalize and verbalize it. Align your brand with your purpose by building teams that share your values and listen intently to your audience’s needs and desires. Establish your purposeful foundation so you will be primed to pivot in the midst of chaos.