How are leading figures from the worlds of hospitality, retail, design and more adapting to a radically altered business landscape? From embracing digital platforms to taking the time to regroup, plan for the future and consolidate their operations, this is a bump in the road but optimism is in the air too. Here are their lessons for the days ahead.
Businesses have never faced a challenge like this. The global economy looking is rather bumpy (to say the least): as these pages went to press, a third of the world was in lockdown. With the threat of workforces everywhere falling ill and most industries operating under unprecedented conditions, companies from small to large have had to think hard about how they plan on moving forward. And think they have.
It’s been inspiring to hear from business leaders of all stripes. Among mantras of resolve and creativity, one message has cut through more than any other: we must remain positive. This is not to say that problems won’t have to be dealt with head on – and swiftly. But, ultimately, their ability to weather this storm depends on their resolve. That’s whether they’re a Swiss soap manufacturer that’s nimbly pushing hand sanitiser through development stages to clean up in a booming market, a Californian running-clothes outfitter that’s having to learn on its feet or a Spanish design studio director who’s finding some solace in a morning routine of downward dog.
This is the word from those who have everything to play for – and how they’re making the best of it.
Contemporary art gallerists with spaces in Berlin, London and Los Angeles working with some 70 artists worldwide.
Magers: “This situation has had an enormous effect, of course. We have closed all of our locations temporarily and our team works remotely. But it is not only about business, it is also about our cultural mission. Since the beginning our aim has been to discuss the ideas of the artists, to show and sell their art and give them the opportunity to continue working. We now offer video tours of our exhibitions for anyone who’s interested and we have launched a video series with insights from our artists’ studios.”
Sprüth: “You have to have a clear idea of what you want to represent in terms of content, you have to think long-term and follow your intuition. But now is also a chance for resetting and reimagining the business on many different levels, for rethinking routines and developing new ways of doing things. This is not limited to the art world; it is a wider chance to question the values of our capitalist world, which has led to many dangerous and questionable developments.”
This US brand works with a network of scientists and doctors to develop probiotics and health supplements
“At a time when misinformation is especially rampant, we’re honoured to help educate and make scientifically credible information accessible, reminding our community of the power of connection and resilience.
We’ve assembled an internal task force with dedicated owners to ensure that all areas of our business are accounted for and functioning thoughtfully, from proactive consideration and management of our customers’ needs and experience through to tapping our international network and supply chain to see how we might help source medical supplies, such as masks.
It has been a deep reinforcement of our vision and our work. As a company looking to steward the future of microbes and their applications across both human and planetary health, our values are grounded in the successful translation, communication and empowerment of science. The events transpiring around the world today are a first-hand reminder of what happens when science and health aren’t prioritised.”
An Athens-headquartered architecture and urban design practice with public and private projects throughout Europe
“We have always been conscious of maintaining a small company with minimum investment, risk or stress. The current situation mostly means delays but all research, creative work and problem-solving continues.
I advise people to take advantage of this moment – it is a rare time for introspection. It gives us time for family and to focus on the important things and give up unnecessary habits. It’s also a moment for realisations; for example, how much time do we spend commuting, travelling – working, even?
But most importantly, this is a time to look at our homes. Is this a place we are happy to be? This is the time to fix, improve, organise, decorate. Our home is our micro world, a mirror of ourselves and the life we want to live. The project of our home can truly happen now.”
Sustainability-focused landscape architecture practice responsible for public green spaces all over Bangkok
“Disruption is normal – whether economic or climate – but this is severe. It is testing our creativity and resilience. All communications with our team and clients have become much more streamlined and we have saved a lot of time with travel.
I think there will be more work for us after this. It will not be business as usual but it will be easier to convince clients of the importance of our work. Many want denser cities but avoiding this sort of pandemics requires more space and a healthy city structure. I think that people will place more faith in scientists and experts, which will carry over to attitudes toward climate change. It’s a disruption that I hope will wake us all up.”
Creative design studio based in Barcelona with an international roster of editorial, fashion and corporate clients.
“Many of our staff already worked remotely with a lot of our clients and they’re continuing with all of their projects with us. But management has had to adjust to not having people around, physically. We also opened a homeware shop last summer that, sadly, had to close. After this, I’m not sure whether people will have as much money for these sorts of shops.
But we need to be positive. If we don’t take this time to do the things we have always wanted to do we could get depressed – so be proactive. Reclaim your free time: learn subjects and follow tutorials, pursue your own opportunities. I meditate and do yoga every day now. You have to keep the creative energy alive.”
Premium Australian fashion retailer founded in Sydney by twins Vincent and Brian Wu.
“The number one concern is cashflow. We’ve definitely come up with a lot of creative ways to keep close to our clientele, which I’m sure we would not have thought of if things were running smoothly. Our staff have made a real effort to reach out to our VIP customers and make sure they’re OK, even giving them some styling ideas over video chats. Hopefully suppliers, retailers, factories and everyone else will start working together a lot more, as we all need each other to survive.”
Luxury secondhand fashion retailer, available around the world and based in Paris.
“Our entire Paris head office and most of our regional offices across the globe are working remotely so that we can continue to function as a business. Our logistics team in northern France has been divided into two teams who alternate their time in the warehouse and take every precaution: masks, full sanitisation, medical supplies, temperature monitoring. We’ve had to expand the scope of our direct shipping service in response to customer needs.
There’s no doubt that the coming months are going to be challenging for everyone. We need to remain in tune as the situation develops and ensure that we evolve the way we function and support our customers. I believe that people will step out of this crisis with a different mindset. They might reconsider their priorities and the way they consume, which will drive interest in resale – it’s a more conscious and affordable way to buy clothes.”
Soap and cosmetics brand based in Zürich, with factories in Europe.
“People still need soap. But the immediate direction of the company has changed; we’re making a lot of hand sanitiser now, something we moved into production in January. Revenue is similar to before: wholesale orders from hotels and restaurants for shampoo and soap are way down but internet purchases are way up.
We’re all going to have to rethink what’s in demand, especially as this new behaviour will probably stick around in the future. In many cases, it’s about ensuring that people can access what you have to offer. People still want to shop local; they still want the things they wanted before. We need to make sure they can access them.”
A pioneering bike-share company whose technology has been rolled out in cities across the globe.
“We had to make the tough decision to temporarily pause our London service. We have, however, been able to make a group of Beryl Bikes available for personal loan, free of charge, for key frontline workers across the city. We’re working to keep the service running for everyone who needs it in these uncertain times.
As a team we’re calling each other throughout the day, giving everyone a more personal insight into colleagues’ home lives and there is a real sense of comradeship across groups coming together to solve problems.
We’re using this time to align behind key projects and build launch strategies. A new bike-share scheme requires months of hard work and collaboration between our team and the authorities with which we partner. We’re researching locations for parking, communicating with communities and improving our technology.”
A Toronto-based beauty company, whose products run the gamut from skincare to supplements.
“Our first priority was to ensure that we slow the spread of the virus by closing our offices and shops. We are now working to have online consultations with our shop teams. It’s important that they feel connected with the business: we want them to continue providing the human connection they bring to our audience.
We need to work harder than ever to ensure our survival. It is likely that supply chains will take some time to recover but we hope that the impact of coronavirus will reset some human values, one of them being patience. Our team has been finding novel ways to stay connected, which is a reminder of how resilient we are.”
An Indonesian hospitality company famous for its hotel and beach club in Bali, with outposts in Hong Kong and Singapore.
“To be able to lead our business through this turbulence, we need to be fit and healthy as individuals. We’re controlling what we can control rather than dwelling on things that are out of our scope. And we’re emphasising kindness in every way we can.
We are using this opportunity to focus on two things: what does our wider community here in Bali need to get through this and with global travel limited for the foreseeable future, how can we share our brand with people around the world? We don’t know exactly what this will look like but we’re trying to find new solutions.
It’s certainly driving us to be more creative. We’re focusing on ensuring that the business will be viable on the other side and streamlining what we do to emerge from this healthier and stronger.”
A running brand for everyday athletes dedicated to the pursuit of personal excellence.
“When running, you learn not to get too comfortable. As soon as you think, ‘I’ve got it figured out’, something brings you down to earth. This mindset pays dividends when running a business confronted with the unexpected.
We’re fortunate: running is one of the few activities available to people practising social distancing. The brands that will emerge from this in the best position will be those that don’t shy away from experimentation; this is an opportunity to fundamentally re-examine their way of doing business. My goal with Tracksmith has always been to build a sustainable business model. This upheaval has reinforced the importance of a thoughtful, measured approach to business.”
Australian record label, whose portfolio includes electropop favourites Flume and prodigies Erthlings.
“Live revenue, the largest segment of artists’ income, has been wiped out. Recorded music income continues but it has been devastating for artists, managers, agents, promoters, crew and anyone connected with the live music business. It will get harder before it gets easier but we will get through it.
Humans are incredibly adaptable. At Future Classic, on day one of working from home we started working on an artist-collaboration app; our world had changed and we were forced to adapt. There will be countless examples of this sort of innovation across every sector and seeing this ingenuity inspires others. Let’s make the world a better place, it’s all that matters.”
A Hong Kong-based property developer, managing commercial, retail, hotel and residential ventures.
“All our businesses have been impacted. But this is 2020. We’re living in a digital age; having to incorporate more technology into our business could turn a crisis into an opportunity.
We have to play our part as responsible corporate citizens in the face of a global crisis. Take care of your people first as they’re your greatest asset. It’s important to stay positive; maintaining a long-term outlook for your business is essential, with an eye towards the future to see how you can keep adapting to an ever-changing and very unpredictable world.”
The Tokyo-based homewares brand fuses traditional Japanese aesthetics with contemporary furniture, lighting and tableware.
“The experience of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that caused Tokyo to lose its function as a city for several months – with many craftsmen and factories suffering – means that we try to continue our production activities as much as we can.
It is possible for us to continue manufacturing even in difficult situations as we use local materials and craftsmen from Japan, and our products are made at our own factory; many other manufacturers rely on parts from other countries. I think that this is the first time that the whole world has simultaneously faced a crisis like this; in overcoming it, the world will undergo a major shift in values and a new era will begin.
Family-run luxury hospitality chain based in Singapore with 47 hotels and resorts and 72 retail spaces around the world.
“Any risk hits the travel industry extremely hard because travel is the first thing to go out of the window. Bearing that in mind, the necessity is to be resilient. We had a huge humanitarian crisis with the tsunami [in 2004]; 200,000 people died around the world and nine of our resorts were hit.
All expansion projects and capital expenditure will be pushed back. But, at the same time, we’re not making any substantial changes to our overall strategy. In this business we expect tsunamis, earthquakes, epidemics, riots. We can’t live by being afraid of these things and adjusting our plans simply because there is a sudden but relatively short-lived disruption. Life goes back to normal and our long-term strategy reverts to normal, probably after a one-year hiatus.”
A Michelin-starred restaurant in Rio de Janeiro.
“For our trade there’s no working from home so we decided to close and wait for things to improve. We’re planning and looking forward to what’s going to happen when we can come back. With my kitchen staff, we’ve been looking to our books for inspiration and writing down ideas. We’re using this time to make sure our cellar is well stocked too; we’re preparing for the euro to go up by buying wine for our restaurant now.
Through all of this I’m making sure I keep my team together. People come to the restaurant for different reasons: wine, food, ambience or friendships with the staff. When my customers come back, they will find the same people that were there before and it will give them a feeling of coming home.”
Trade-fair organisers hosting events for everything from food to fashion.
“Pitti Immagine has never stopped working but we’re fully aware that we will need to adapt to the new situation. We are laying down the foundations for a relaunch as soon as possible and are aiming to open June’s fairs in September instead. We intend to host the physical fair alongside a new version of the e-Pitti Connect digital platform. We’ve also been strengthening our teams and rethinking our strategies. This fair season will not be like the others but this period will provide us with more ideas for a great Pitti Uomo.”
The Copenhagen architecture firm with projects around the globe.
“At its core, our business hasn’t changed: we’re making the same product for the same people to the same standard. But the way we work has changed: everything is now run remotely and we’re relying on the digital world much more.
We’re also trying to understand the outlook of our clients in the medium- to long-term so we can adapt to their needs. The future is unpredictable but you can focus on what you can control and plan for the different scenarios.
This is a new way of working; it will teach us to be more efficient and how to operate better remotely. We’re also learning new management styles: we have to disperse assignments but can’t offer as much supervision or guidance to our staff as usual. We’re approaching this as an opportunity for growth, for our leadership and our workforce alike.”
A bakery and café on the gallery-lined Linienstrasse in Berlin.
“Though sales in my shop haven’t been affected yet, I have lost 75 per cent of my wholesale orders, which is a big gap in my income. But we’ve had a huge amount of support from our community; Berlin is built on small, independent businesses and the city needs us to survive.
But this is an existential challenge for the industry and we are in uncharted waters. I’ve been focusing on remaining calm and carrying on. If we have to close our doors, we’ll put in place a home-delivery service. In the meantime, we’re taking the opportunity to get a new range of products on sale. We’ve been preparing lots of long-life goods: jams, nut butters, granola, cereal bars. It’s something I had been wanting to focus on for a while but never found the time.”