This is the first of our Pivot Series, where Yahoo Finance tracks stories of small business survival tactics during the coronavirus crisis.
Yarra Valley’s famous Rochford Wines is a wedding venue, concert hall, cellar door, restaurant and all-round entertainment destination.
Or, at least it was, until the exponential spread of the coronavirus pandemic forced the government to introduce strict lockdown measures, which saw restaurants turn into takeaway joints, weddings cancelled and social distancing rules come into play.
But owner Helmut Konecsny isn’t one to say ‘no’ to a challenge. In fact, he found a way to keep all of his staff on the books, including casuals - and maintain his business.
“There is no blueprint for this,” he told Yahoo Finance.
“We cancelled concerts, cancelled weddings, and thought, ‘how are we going to get to the end of this?’”
Konecsny’s first step was to make sure his customers still had access to his wines, which involved sending out daily newsletters and turning cellar door staff into direct sales people.
“We just needed to get staff on the phone and make customers offers they couldn’t refuse,” he said.
Gourmet grocer move
With wine sales under control, Konecsny turned to his restaurants.
“We already had a shop which we sold some food in, so we converted half the restaurant and the existing shop into a gourmet grocer,” he said.
And those near Yarra Valley who might be struggling to get their hands on toilet paper can rejoice: Konecsny got his hands on loo rolls.
“We’re going to get what we can get,” he said.
Customers can also purchase lamb, pork and steak as well as home-made pasta and, of course, wine.
The restaurant’s kitchen has been converted from immediate cooking to prepping, so it’s equipped for takeaway and delivery services.
“Nobody in the Yarra Valley delivers - only us. And for the deliveries, we’re using staff because we’re trying to keep them in work,” he said.
Casual staff printed leaflets for the takeaway business and distributed them across all homes within a 25-kilometre radius.
And Konecsny sees this as a sustainable business model, too.
“As long as we can get supplies, yes it’s sustainable,” he said.
“The demand is humongous. Even after the first day I can already tell you in a week’s time we will be doing 90 per cent delivery and 10 per cent in-store, because people are locking themselves down.”
‘Don’t buy French wine’
But in order for businesses like Konecsny’s to keep going, they need the support of Aussies.
“Don’t buy French wine,” he said. “There’s plenty of time to buy French wine when this is over. Buy Australian wine. We need the community.”
And to other businesses, Konecsny said now’s the time to step up to the plate.
“You need to be smart now, and write the script after,” he said.
“You’ll change everyday until it works the way it needs to be working.”
If your business is pivoting during this time, send us your story to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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