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Innovation takes centre stage: the small business pivoting from events to offices

Posted 6 months ago in Small business by Angus Capel
Posted by Angus Capel

Just three short weeks ago, Stagekings’ Jeremy Fleming was at a complete loss as to how to save his business. With all public gatherings banned under social distancing rules, he’d watched as the ramifications of COVID-19 decimated Australia’s live entertainment industry. As the owner of a company centred on building large-scale festival stages, an immediate and complete shutdown seemed like his only viable option. 

In an experience shared by countless businesses around the world, Stagekings’ shift in circumstances was near instant. One day, the team was prepping for the creation of a 37-metre-tall globe for Miley Cyrus and Robbie Williams’ Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix performance. The next day, the event was cancelled and everyone was sent home. Within the space of 48 hours their entire income for the rest of 2020 was gone.

A Stagekings setup in all of its glory

 

Taking a chance and shifting with changing circumstances

For a business made up of scaffolders, carpenters, designers, support staff and labourers who specialise in creating structures for everything from major music festivals to the Commonwealth Games (they’re also behind the mind-bending obstacles of Ninja Warrior), it meant 23 people would be out of work for the foreseeable future.

On Friday 20 March, Jeremy had no choice but to ask his staff to down tools and hand in their keys. But he knew there was still work to be done, explaining, “Letting all of our dedicated, loyal staff go was too much to bear. So we got thinking about what else we could do to make a living during this time”. By Sunday, the beginnings of a new plan were in the works. 

“A clever suggestion came in from a mate who works in the production space at Flying Elephant  in Ireland. He said, ‘You guys have a CNC router, and people who know how to use it. Right now, there are entire industries who suddenly have to operate from home. They need desks so they can work comfortably and safely, and you’ve got the skills and materials to make them’”.  

For the uninitiated, a CNC router is a large computer-controlled cutting machine that the Stagekings crew previously manned to craft stages. It just so happens that the same tool also lends itself perfectly to the creation of desks.

Checking the numbers and making the move to a whole new way of doing things

By Monday 23 March, Jeremy and his head of production, Mick, who is a keen furniture maker in his spare time, had drawn up and 3D-printed a series of designs. That evening, they made their first desk from a couple of sheets of birch plywood. Knowing that they were on to an idea that could both meet a growing demand and provide their staff with work, the duo set about adding an e-commerce page to their website. They went live the next morning.

“In a matter of hours we made the decision to rethink our entire business model to one that focused on producing affordable desks that provide people with a safe space to work from home during this period of isolation. We coined them IsoKing. They come in four pieces, need no tools to assemble, and go together in 30 seconds”. 

The IsoKing desk in action

 

But while Jeremy and Mick may have moved fast, it wasn’t without careful consideration. “The first thing we did was look at our finances. We have an accountant and bookkeeper, and my wife takes care of the back-end admin. She basically lives on Xero, and being able to see our numbers every minute of every day is what enabled us to turn this idea into a reality so quickly”.

Getting the team back together and finding a new purpose (for now)

From the moment their new IsoKing product line launched, demand was instant. All of which has enabled the business to innovate yet again, creating everything from stand-up desk options to child-sized home-school desks. As well as monitor and laptop stands, and retail protection shields that provide an added layer of protection from airborne particles. 

For a team who has built everything from Mardi Gras floats to a replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, versatility is nothing new. And as remote working and homeschooling have fast become the norm, they’ve since made one more addition to the line-up. Jeremy explains, “Basically, there has never been a greater need to store more wine. Our wine racks ensure help is never far away after a long day spent in the home office and/or supervising schoolchildren”.

Most importantly, every single member of the loyal Stagekings crew has been able to come back on board. “We’ve been overwhelmed by the amazing support we’ve received since changing our business direction. But the best part is that we’ve been able to bring back all of our original staff, and then some – we now have 52 people working to fulfil our orders. We’ve even had a neighbouring event company who were out of business come and join the fold”.

“We’re also donating $10 from every sale to Support Act, a charity that’s supporting music workers impacted by the coronavirus pandemic (at last count, nearly 600,000 event folk have been affected). In our first few weeks we’ve raised just over $10,000”.

And while, like most of us, Jeremy and the Stagekings team are suddenly faced with a very different normal, he remains positive about what’s to come. “For the moment, our ‘why’ has changed. If we can keep a few people in work, and a few more people productive at home during this crazy time, then we’re happy. We hope to be back building amazing stages for concerts and festivals before long, but in the meantime, we’re here to help”.

Three tips on how to pivot your business in times of need

  • Consider your existing skill set(s): What capabilities do you and your team already have that could potentially lend themselves to something that’s suitable for the current environment? On making the shift from stages to desks, Jeremy explains, “Our guys know timber. The material is the same; it’s just a different purpose for now”.
  • Take stock of your finances: In times of uncertainty, it pays to have a thorough understanding of where your business stands. Jeremy says, “The first thing we did was look at our numbers and take stock of what we needed to do to successfully shift our output“. Your accountant or bookkeeper will be a key source of advice on your specific circumstances. 
  • Go digital: With COVID-19 having transformed Stagekings’ entire industry, pivoting to become an online retailer is enabling them to make it through to the other side – and thrive in the process. With current restrictions on bricks-and-mortar trading, now is the time to adapt and make the transition to digital (you can look to apps such as Shopify for help).

Continuing business at times like these is tougher than ever. Xero’s business continuity hub has pulled together the latest information, tools and resources on everything from government aid to managing cash flow to help guide you through.

 

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