Over the last few months, we have been interviewing and celebrating some of the businesses that have been wonderfully resilient, and nimble in adapting to the changing situation across the last 18 months. In this penultimate article of the current series I, Miriam Simon, thought I'd share myown story. Whilst many of you may know me as Drogheda Chamber Vice-President, I’ve also run my own business also for the last 3 years. In response to COVID-19, I’ve had the pleasure of working alongside many Chamber members throughout the challenges and I hope to get to know many more of you in the year ahead too. Here’s my story:
Business background - pre pandemic
Having spent over twenty five years in senior and boardl evel retail roles, with brands such as Monsoon Accessorize, Arcadia, B&Q,TK Maxx, Life Style Sports, I have a successful track record in high level leadership and dynamic retail growth and trading strategy. Alongside this, I'd also spent almost a decade mentoring business, across sectors with emphasis on innovation and disruptive technologies.
My own business, PTO.ie, was only year two when the pandemic hit and I was just beginning to establish myself as a retail strategist and speaker.
The week before an Taoiseach announcement to 'go home/stayhome', I'd spoken at Local Enterprise Week about the future of retail and had touted that commuter culture would soon come to an end. Didn't quite expect it to happen as immediately as it did however...😀
What was the initial impact on the business & how did you react?
Within around 48hrs of the 'go home, stay home'announcement, all speaking engagements had been cancelled. I realised that I had little control over the situation. There was plenty to distract me and keep me busy – the phone was ringing non-stop, with many others in crisis and needing help. To help and support wherever I could, stopped my own panic and gave me some focus. Whilst the cash flow ‘totally crashed, I didn't look at my own pivot for my business until several weeks later.
A very good friend and mentor challenged me to hold a webinar - something I'd never done before. I went for it and posted on LinkedIn to promote it.
I had (i) never done a webinar before, and (ii) didn't know many of the 130+ people that had signed up to attend. However, it transpires that fear can be a great motivator! I was generous with anyhints and tips to support retail business to survive and maybe even thrive - despite the lockdown. Feedback on the one hour session was very positive and very quickly I was busy presenting to retail groups around the country. In hindsight, this was the unintentional beginning of my business pivot. PTO.ie was now delivering retail training and education, all focused on driving trade, innovation and agility.
What changes did you make to cope or pivot / and to adapt to the situation?
Upskilling digitally was key. In the last year my business has become much more digitally focussed. And not just webinars and zoom meetings.
From a webinar and retail skills viewpoint - I focused on programmes aimed at SME retail and hospitality business owners. These were both very hard-hit sectors, so both commerciality & practicality were key. My priority for the workshop design was around helping businesses to'keep the lights on', to support staying connected with the customer, to help with identifying customer needs, and to help the businesses to generate cash despite having closed doors. As the situation evolved, we then moved to getting future fit within a dynamically changing industry.
In September 2020 we launched The Retail Powerhouse, which is an affordable, subscription-based support for SME retailers. This service enables these businesses to access consultancy level advice and support which would usually be out of range. There's a weekly meeting and a strong andengaged community who really help each other to thrive. In addition - members get access to all my retail & trading webinars and workshops (first and for free!).
The Retail Powerhouse also features monthly expert sessions on topics driven by the members. We focus on practical subjects helping them thrive and giving them the a real edge. Examples include managing 'live streaming', utilising TikTok for business, SEO, visual merchandising, Instagramfor business (to name just a few!). Everything is designed so that retailers can pick and choose the supports and learning that suits their needs.
In Q1 of this year, I also launched my first eBook: RetailingThrough Uncertainty - Time to thrive! This is a commercial look at techniques that have been proven to work, and that have helped many Irish SME businesses to flourish, despite the challenges of the last 18 months.
While my pivot has focused on supporting SME’s, the core of my business, PTO.ie, is still high level consultancy and strategy for large private clients. My expertise is in driving dynamic trading strategies, anticipating industry trends and exceeding consumer expectations.
How are you feeling about business as we begin to plan to emerge from the lockdowns, and as vaccinations roll out?
We tend to underestimate how well we coped last year, but businesses should be really proud of their responses to the COVID-19 challenges.
The digital grants and supports from Enterprise Ireland and the LEO networks were world class and drove impetus to get SME retailers online and more future fit.
It’s heartening also that there is a programme to support hybrid and remote working practices via a network of digital hubs across the Country. This is turn will support local and indigenous business greatly.
However, SME businesses need to continue evolving and innovating, to be future fit and relevant. The business and retail landscape are dynamically changing. And so too is the Consumer!Businesses need to do everything we can to move quickly and get ahead of that.
Finally … What's your top piece of advice for other businesses?
I have a couple if that’s okay.
Don’t be afraid of adversity. It nearly always leads to longer term growth or goodness, even if you can’t see it at the time. And be open to new experience and learning.
And get involved with business networks, such as your local Chamber of Commerce! We all need diversity of thought and external input and inspiration. It can be very valuable, especially in times like these.
If you'd like to be featured in this series - We'd love to hear from you
@Drogheda & District Chamber