August 4, 2020

Business opportunities in the COVID economy

By Blair Burchill

Many businesses have struggled, but many have prospered since COVID-19 closed Canada down in March.

Human contact businesses, such as hair salons and cafés, have been hit hard. Digitally enabled businesses, such as professional services, fared better overall—though an accountant specializing in salons and cafés would find Zoom somewhat useless.

We’re now settling into a new way of business. It’s definitely not the normal we had, but it is opening up new business opportunities everywhere.

Weak Economies Help Strong Businesses

Now is a good time to build a strong business. As Warren Buffet once said, “It’s only when the tide goes out that you learn who’s been swimming naked.”

What he meant is that any business can look good in the good times, because there are enough customers around to put up issues like poor service or quality. But when the economy dives, consumers make decisions about where to pull back. You’d better believe that they start with products and services that they find the least valuable.

Poor or weak businesses go to the wall, leaving increased opportunity and market share for strong businesses with good products.

Because most products are quite generic, it’s the brands that provide customers with something extra and generate a sense of loyalty who benefit the most. Think about a cola that provides more than fizz and taste—it helps you enjoy life. Or a car that doesn’t just get the kids to soccer, it gives a bit of ‘zoom-zoom’. Or the courier company that doesn’t just get the parcel there, it absolutely positively gets it there overnight.

All are very generic products, distributed and served efficiently, but they have the added zing of a strong brand position that customers come back for.

What Kind of Business to Launch Now

It’s not only strong, existing brands and businesses who are faring well in the new post-pandemic economy. There are new opportunities opening up, and tomorrow’s big brands are starting out right now.

The Great Depression, the Dotcom bust and the global financial crisis (GFC) saw the birth of businesses that have become today’s giants. General Electric and Disney arose from the Great Depression, Uber and Square are both children of the GFC, for example. Ottawa’s Shopify was started shortly after the Dotcom bubble burst in the early 2000s by some regular guys who just wanted a better way to sell their products online.

Recession-Proof Businesses

Listed below are the types of businesses that have been prospering since the lockdown. Along with the list of popular shopping items at the bottom you may find ideas to boost your current business or inspiration for a startup.

Businesses that have prospered during COVID-19:

  • Video conferencing apps (Zoom is the new black, and Slack is booming).
  • Cybersecurity providers and cybersecurity insurance.
  • E-learning resources. You can study anything now, from school work to learning a language (Duolingo has soared). You can also take cooking classes from Gordon Ramsay or Jamie Oliver, writing classes from Dan Brown, or acting classes from Natalie Portman.
  • Online fitness (Peloton is doing very well). Why not join a trainer’s hot new class in Paris or Reykjavik?
  • Video games (Electronic Arts and Nintendo set sales records) and movie streaming—this means potato chips are on the up as well.
  • Online groceries and café/restaurant deliveries. Logical, really.
  • Online shopping in general, including traditional retailers with strong e-commerce presences, like Walmart.
  • Beauty products. It’s a well-documented trend that they often dip, then come back even stronger, in recessions.
  • Legal services, which is unsurprising with all of the change in business and personal lives.
  • Pharmaceuticals, cleanliness products (Lysol and Detol had all-time record quarters), gels, soaps and (of course) PPE.
  • Remote/online medical services.
  • Eco-friendly technologies, as everyone realizes how clean and green the world is with less oil, pollution, smoke, haze etc.
  • Experiences. With less travel abroad, local experiences are in demand.

Shopping items that have enjoyed increased sales during COVID-19:

  • Baking goods like yeast, flour, etc. Home baking makes a comeback.
  • Ice cream and chocolate. A little luxury to get through the long days at home!
  • Wine, beer, potato chips. You guessed it: more home time on video games and Netflix.
  • Lounge-wear, hoodies, track pants, sweaters—and top-half clothing for all those Zoom meetings.
  • Hair clippers, beard trimmers and hair dye, for the DIY salon.
  • Board games and jigsaw puzzles, Lego, outdoor toys to help keep the kids entertained.
  • Books. That makes sense.
  • Home fitness products for all of those online fitness classes.
  • Cigarettes. Not so cool.
  • Cannabis. Sales were high (get it? ha!) in the Netherlands and Canada, where it is legal.
  • Guns. Only in the US, of course.
  • Vegetable seeds and home gardening supplies in general.
  • Sewing and knitting supplies; mending makes sense if the household budget is cut.
  • Storage containers, for all of those large-volume cooking sessions.
  • Home office equipment.
  • Pets and pet toys. Because a dog/cat/parrot/hamster is a shut-in’s best friend.

See the common thread here? They’re all businesses that meet the needs that we all have when we’re stuck at home.

Hopefully, there is a business idea here for you, such an app for booking child-distracting services in your location?

Good luck, and don’t forget to find a strong market position and build a durable brand right from the start. If you’re looking for a strategic and creative advertising agency in Ottawa, we’re here to help.

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Blair Burchill , Strategy Director + Fractional CMO

Blair has 25+ years experience in advertising agencies from Ottawa to Brisbane to London. His experience transcends consumer brands from airlines and lottery operations in Australia, to petroleum and fast food in the UK, to government and public utilities here in Ottawa. His aim is always to find a point of difference for a brand that is based on an inherent truth, and bring it to life with campaigns in targeted media channels from traditional to digital and social. In addition, Blair spent over two years on the client side as the national director of marketing for a Cisco UC provider in Australia, working on B2B lead generation campaigns. His interests are advertising, rugby and summer.