How are different industries tackling COVID-19? Bold business leaders share their stories.
COVID-19 is 2020’s wildcard shaking up every industry with new challenges and opportunities. It’s forcing businesses to evolve and change the way they bring their products to their customers – from their physical delivery to crucial brand messaging.
You’ve learned about the IT/BPO, Education and Finance industries in our part 1 article. Here we continue to share with you more learnings generously shared by business leaders in different fast-moving Philippine industries, and how they are handling the hurdles with the help of technology, partners, and internal teams.
Incorporated in 2009, NAVCO is a distributor and retailer of consumer electronics with exclusive rights to sell big US brands like Garmin. NAVCO is also introducing Smart Home Automation in the country. As a retailer, they have 40 brick and mortar stores that are either single-brand (Garmin and Anker) or multi-brand (Nifty). They have been strengthening their e-commerce presence since 2015 through their online stores and partnerships with Shopee, Zalora, and Lazada. They’re one of Lazada’s selected accredited partners in the country.
Despite the strong foothold NAVCO has established in the market over the years, CEO Ryan Tan shares that COVID-19 challenged them to look at the bigger picture and reposition their brands. “We set a goal [for our brands] to be a source of hope and joy during this crisis. That to us is our lighthouse. Then we pivoted there.” They made all services, content, and product positioning act as tools against the COVID-19 crisis without being hard sell. Their initiatives include giving away free smartwatches and creating exercise challenges to promote working out at home and monitoring one’s health.
Likewise, they took care of their employees through grocery purchases, work-from-home set-ups, financial support, and offering physical and mental health benefits. NAVCO prioritized automating parts of their operations using cloud-based solutions. They use the latest cloud-based technology for their Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and HR Information System. Teleconferencing tools such as Zoom have made it easy for them to work remotely even during the quarantine.
On the sales end, letting their customers know that their products are on-hand and ready for same-day delivery has given them a boost. Partnering with third-party delivery operators helped them with that. They’ve proven that with a crisis of this scale, introspection is necessary. Their audits revealed ways to simplify and streamline their processes to help them cope.
Tan hopes that all efforts they’re making will help seize new opportunities in the future, preparing the company for expansion in neighboring Asian countries. He also sees NAVCO becoming a partner for other businesses wanting to be technologically savvier. After being shaken up by COVID-19, they’re formulating business decisions to safeguard against possible threats, guided by the company’s core values: integrity, magis, boldness, innovativeness, and forward-thinking.
“This is the time to sharpen the pencil. We keep working even from home. We advanced planning sessions to help us become more effective after the lockdown… and make us stronger when we reopen. Revisit [your] plans and zoom in,” Tan advises other retail businesses like his.
Auntie Anne’s hails from the US and became popular in the Philippines for the delicious taste and inviting scent of their freshly baked pretzels, natural lemonades, and coffee. Since 1995, they have grown to 65 branches with 400+ employees nationwide, occupying key locations in malls.
COO Mikkel Paris shares that they’ve experienced and adapted to closing their stores during typhoons or fire incidents, but to close all branches was a completely new scenario. They had to reallocate resources and shift gears for their deliveries quickly. They rely heavily on social media to connect with clients. Logistics partners Grab and FoodPanda helped them get back on track quickly to help fulfill customer orders, too.
The inspiring positivity of Auntie Anne’s pretzel specialists, aka their staff, who volunteered to work despite the odds, also had a significant role so they can operate and maximize the reach of the remaining 13 branches that were kept open. The company provided the employees with bikes so they can get to work due to the lack of public transportation. Constant communication through apps like Viber kept the team updated on tasks ahead and assured of each other’s safety. “You are nothing without your team. Take care of them, and they’ll look after you,” he stresses.
While a pandemic of this scale is hard to foresee, Paris recognizes the need to develop their own app that will directly process delivery and pick-up orders from their customers, and be another avenue for online-based marketing. Accelerating digital transactions through GCash will also be invaluable for restaurants and cafés as Filipinos grow accustomed to e-wallets and the speed and convenience of online shopping.
Paris shares, “Take this as an opportunity to grow. Explore to [go] the next level. Sometimes a virus is what it takes to adapt. It’s difficult not to.”
Desktop Bags was born in Bataan in 2012, manufacturing high-quality fashion bags for designer brands like Coach, Michael Kors, and Kate Spade. Their core competency lies with their 6000 skilled workers who are trained and fully equipped with machinery, including an AI-powered high-speed robotic cutter. Once completed, the bags are patented in the US then sold all over the world.
Due to high-transmission risk, COVID-19 paused many factories’ operations in the country, including Desktop Bags. Mark Leo Gamboa, the company’s IT Supervisor and Head, describes that only their admin personnel are working during the Enhanced Community Quarantine to process salaries and orders for imported materials. This makes up only 1% of the manpower, leaving the rest with no regular income – save for the advanced salaries, 13th-month pay, and the grocery fund the company generously released, despite having zero purchase orders.
Unlike other industries that sell directly to local consumers, Desktop Bags services retailers abroad that are also hard-hit by the pandemic, mainly because their luxury products are not considered essential items during a crisis. Despite having specialized software to measure mass production efficiency, these technologies are no substitute for the expert human touch that creates top-quality, high-fashion bags.
After the Crisis
Pre- and post- COVID-19, Gamboa identifies stable internet connectivity as a critical ingredient for improving business communication and operations, especially in the provinces. When the factory reopens, they’ll enforce social distancing. They will half their once 70-persons per line to maintain safe distances between workers. Shifting focus to products with a higher demand seems to be the first and most viable step to combat the threats of the pandemic, which in turn they foresee will guide their marketing strategies and personnel training.
Gamboa shares that in these trying times, manufacturing companies should “be on standby.” He adds, “Ready computers or invest on laptops for remote work. Use apps like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Webex for collaboration.”
Lalamove started in Hong Kong, expanded to the Philippines in 2016, and is currently operating in 12 countries intending to provide reliable intra-city deliveries. Dannah Majarocon, Managing Director, recognizes the need to support micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) with low-cost but efficient deliveries via motorcycles to light trucks that can be booked on-demand or scheduled through their mobile app or website. In her words, “Our advocacy is to empower local communities and also drivers. To provide livelihoods and uplift lives; to change the perception of ‘driver lang.'” They’re able to connect thousands of vehicle and business owners with the same desire to grow their income. Helping them succeed means financial freedom for many Filipinos.
Lalamove is highly tech-dependent and will survive so long as there is internet, but only if their team is safe and ready with a protocol to follow during times of crises. They readied their business continuity plan for Manila and Cebu offices early — nurturing talks with trusted suppliers and testing work from home long before the announcement of the Enhanced Community Quarantine.
“Previously, we trained drivers in our offices. When ECQ was announced, we activated our virtual training program,” Majarocon discloses. The trainings come with online exams, helping them bring drivers onboard efficiently and quickly. Lalamove also purchased and deployed mobile phones, laptops, and hotspot devices in a span of 2 days to ensure minimal business interruption.
Aside from checking in on their team through G Suite and their internal communication platforms, they bought groceries for their staff’s families and will soon introduce online consultations to ensure good morale and mental health. Still, Majarocon shares that there are many things they could have done, like highlighting Lalamove as a reliable partner in their clients’ business continuity strategy which could have prepared more firms for the ECQ and helped them minimize disruption.
COVID-19 will permanently reshape the economic landscape, and Lalamove’s data mirrors this with the rising demand for cashless transactions and no contact deliveries. Technology is on our side and will continue churning easier and safer ways to do business online, so a tech company like Lalamove must recalibrate plans at least quarterly, if not monthly.
“Because of the COVID-19 global impact, there’s high level of uncertainty. It’s valuable to be positive but what’s imperative is to have a highly flexible action plan to catch up on events to ensure business continuity. Lalamove is gearing up to support the evolving demand of existing and new MSME players as we enter a new normal. This is to keep clients’ trust, because there’s minimal business disruption, and to secure livelihoods,” she ends.
The Henry Hotel takes pride in bringing an exceptional experience to its guests through carefully curated art and design, picturesque against the busy backdrop of Pasay and Cebu City. Their two boutique hotels offer modern amenities, in-house gourmet restaurants, artsy event spaces, intimate celebration packages, and photoshoot sessions in their stylized interiors – all elevated further by their penchant for warm customer service.
Before the pandemic, Brand & Marketing Strategist Andrea Agahan shares that the hotels’ focus had been on booking events like weddings, and enticing foreigners to visit the Philippines during their long holidays.
However, with all the travel bans that soon followed after the virus broke out, they quickly had to shift from the usual Hotel and Accommodations business to aid their fellow countrymen. They were able to refocus their services because they’re guided by The Henry Hotel’s core brand values, which ultimately center on providing an experience like no other.
During the ECQ, they are closed for guests other than those who are seeking a safe and comfortable place. Despite the associated risks, they give the best customer experience possible through stringent sanitation and, more importantly, offering stable and strong internet connectivity so guests can connect with loved ones. Internet is a demand that The Henry Hotel sees as essential, even more so now when guests cannot leave their rooms.
No matter the uncertainty that blankets the nation, The Henry Hotel strives to deliver topnotch guest experience that ultimately dispels worries and provide comfort to customers in these trying times.
With many customers hesitant to travel or host big events, The Henry Hotel plans to tweak its target market and their marketing message, but in a way that’s consistent with their branding. First, they want to add value to domestic travelers’ staycations and make it feel like a novel holiday appreciating the local arts and culture. They will also tap budget travelers who are seeking a balance of leisure, sensibility, and safety.
Brand loyalty is key, so a digital marketing campaign with a slice of their signature hospitality will help retain their local and international repeat guests. Stricter sanitation standards and new ways of serving guests that push safety in the forefront, such as self-service methods, are their top priorities once the pandemic settles. With social distancing becoming the new norm, they aim to cater to events with 100 guests or less, turning them into intimate yet superb gatherings when given The Henry Hotel personalized touch.
“Coming from a brand that values our customers’ loyalty, my advice is for hotels to stick to their brand values. That should dictate your marketing or operation efforts. Guests should feel that sense of security and safety amidst what happened with the COVID-19 pandemic. Your brand values will also be what your guests will be sharing to their [connections,] so please your guests,” Agahan shares.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced everyone to look at the same problem but with different lenses. Adaptive technology, efficient logistics, and proactive teams are viable partners during these testing times. Pivoting your brand message is also important to show sensitivity to the situation, help your customers cope, and let them see how your products and services can help them.
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