Two event suppliers rocked by the pandemic reveal how they turned disaster into opportunity, using the lockdown to expand into new flourishing markets.

Pritesh Mody, Founder and Chief Flavour Guru at pre-batch cocktail specialist World of Zing

We worked with a large number of drinks suppliers and events companies to provide cocktails for their events, such as Taste of London and Wilderness Festival. Most of our business is in the on-trade, where we look after around 250 venues around the country, from five-star hotels, to national chains such as Bill’s and Rosa’s Thai.

We had a strong summer of weddings and festivals booked in, as such, we lost around 85% of our turnover pretty much instantly. However, we rapidly clawed back much of our revenue through offering pre-mixed bottled cocktails for takeaway and delivery to our existing clients, but the real bonus has been the corporate sector, where we have regularly supplied team virtual happy hour sessions and branded virtual events.

To be entirely honest, it wasn’t even our idea! We started having marketing managers approach us to put together cocktail sets for their businesses and clients, including providing bespoke branding and for larger customers, bespoke flavours.

At the start, we were providing actual cocktail masterclasses, but as time went on and the group sizes regularly reached into the hundreds, it became clear that Zoom attendees didn’t really want to make drinks any more – they just wanted a good cocktail in front of them and an entertaining compere to create a fun atmosphere.

Moreover, I maintained strong brand recognition through appearances as a cocktail expert on Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch and we also partnered with some incredible brands, including Biscuiteers and South East Cakery to provide cocktails and treat pairings. Collaborations like this are great opportunities to get your name out there while providing a premium experience for consumers while stuck at home.

Our realisation is that there is still business to be done in the events industry, as people still want to be entertained and drinks will always play a big part. But while budgets aren’t the same as they once were, the virtual opportunity allows suppliers such as ourselves to stay front of mind and perhaps even build a new revenue stream.

Kevin O’Mara, Managing Director of executive travel service Advanced Journey Chauffeuring

Prior to the pandemic, we focused solely on high profile passengers from the music, sports and entertainment sectors. However, as COVID-19 effectively shut down many of these industries, we lost our main revenue source.

As a small business in the travel and hospitality sector, we faced an immediate 100% decrease in all revenue streams for non-essential activity during lockdown. The initial difficulties we faced as a business were mitigating the financial impact as best as we could through government support and requesting payment holidays from creditors. We then set about addressing how we hoped to replace any permanently lost business. We had no doubt the travel and music sectors would come back, but the timing was unknown, which made it difficult to gear up to move into another target market. The real balancing act was seeking temporary interim business that would not impact on returning markets. I wanted to balance out the interim work so that any new clients remained catered for but did not impact on capacity management. Another issue was the conditions of furlough preventing directors from ‘promoting the success of the business’.  This meant my business was invisible while under total furlough and losing traction.

Predicting corporate travel would be the first market to reopen, we took the decision to implement ISO certifications in the business, working for three months to achieve accreditation in quality management and information security. By achieving these standards, we ensured our business would stand out as a trusted transport option for the emerging corporate market.

By marketing on social media and virtual business marketing groups, these internationally recognised business standards have attracted new large corporate clients. We’ve since been able to diversify to a wider base, offering luxury travel for well-known names from the field of business, politics and entertainment. We now also use professional images and share relevant content to gain customer traction, keeping clients in the loop about our activities.

My advice to any event suppliers to get through the short term would be to consider which markets are irreparably damaged and seek out replacement business. Also review any larger companies which might have gone out of business  – you might be able to pick up new customers. In the long-term, focus on forming supply chain partnerships to expand your reach – for us this involved private airlines and facilities management companies. Most importantly, we wouldn’t have been able to turn things around without help and advice. So to give something back, we are now participating in Staffordshire Business School’s Small Business Leadership Programme, designed to help SMEs build resilience in overcoming the hurdles they face as a result of COVID-19.