How To Pivot Your Business in a Covid World

September 21, 2020
5 min read

Originally, the term ‘pivot’ was coined back in 2009 to describe Silicon Valley tech start-ups who changed a fundamental part of their business right off the hop.

But the term PIVOT has gained new-found fame in the Covid world.

So we figured, hey?

Why not break down what pivoting means and how to do it properly.

And, in true Spark & Pony fashion, we highlighted some of our favourite Edmonton examples of businesses transitioning effectively and killing the game.

coffee shop

What is a Business Pivot?

A pivot is when a business shifts its strategy to accommodate for changes in its industry or the way customers interact with their brand. Essentially, the company looks at the market and their consumers, and adjusts their business model accordingly.

Here’s a fun example!

Consider YouTube -- you know, that giant online video sharing platform that is valued at over 300 billion dollars? Did you know they started off as an online dating video service? They launched on Valentine's Day 2005 and the original plan was to match singles with other singles via their videos.

Weird, right.

The idea never took off. Eventually, YouTube founders realized there was success in having people upload goofy videos of themselves for others to laugh at. Fast forward to today, and YouTube is the second most powerful search engine online; right behind Google.

Phone open to YouTube

What YouTube did is considered a DRASTIC pivot. Not all pivots need to be as intense as completely rethinking the company structure, though.

A LOT of small businesses have found huge success in making relatively small pivots in their marketing plans.

Case Study: S’well

You probably own a S’well water bottle -- the dual lined, stainless steel thermos that can keep your drinks cold for up to 24 hours?

When S’well originally started out, the business had a charity partnership framework, where they donated a portion of the proceeds to charitable organizations.

While they anticipated their charitable work to be enticing to consumers, sales remained flat.

What S’well founder Sarah Kauss realized is that while people appreciated that aspect, they were really purchasing the bottle because they loved the product. Kauss shifted their marketing focus away from charitable partnership messaging and pivoted towards the unique design of the bottle.

The rest you can say, is history.

Collection of SWELL water bottles

S’well is now valued at over $100 million and is sold in dozens of countries around the world.

The best part?

Kauss remains the sole owner of the brand and now has more money than ever to donate to the charitable cause that inspired the business in the first place -- to rid the world of plastic bottles.

Covid-19 Changed Everything

Back in the day, most companies assumed pivoting meant completely changing the business. But 2020 and Coronavirus took the idea of pivoting and turned it on its head.

The entire concept of social distancing rocked brick and mortar stores, but it went even further than that. Small businesses that had always survived on word of mouth or loyal customers suddenly found a massive hole in their strategy.

Businesses that had never invested in the digital landscape were suddenly without a voice in this new world.

A world where everyone was spending more time in their homes on their phones, than ever before.

long haired girl looking at ipad in hair salon

In March 2020 alone, 70 percent of internet users worldwide were using their smartphones more as a direct result of the coronavirus outbreak.

For some businesses, pivoting meant finally getting online.

Since coronavirus, 66% of businesses without a website were in the process of creating one. Another 27% decided to refresh and upgrade their current website.

Creating Content That Adds Value

For other businesses, the 2020 pivot has been less about getting online and more about changing up their content strategy.

Many small businesses realized that the content they were putting out before Coronavirus was not meeting the current moment.

Instead, the focus shifted to creating content that was…

  • Informative
  • Helpful
  • Sincere
  • Authentic

This has helped many local businesses resonate with their customers in a more raw and real way. Whether it’s been a live Facebook video from the back of a restaurant as employees box up Skip the Dishes or a heartfelt blog post from the founder-and-chief.

Companies that have started engaging with their customers on a personal level have found new success in the interim.

So… what does a content pivot look like?

It’s about sharing your challenges, opening up about your successes, highlighting employees, and telling a loyal customer story. These are all human examples of sharing real content that engages emotionally, in a time where emotional connections matter more than ever.

Person on cellphone

Pivot The Experience Not The Brand

Yes, of course every small business owner wants to make money.  But typically, when someone ventures into the crazy world of entrepreneurship, there is so much more to it than just a drive for profit.

Small business owners are passionate about their industries and pour their lives into the business.

So when a small business meets challenging circumstances and sees that a pivot might be needed, the smartest decision they can make is to go back to their roots: their business plan.

A business plan is a solid foundation for any business and should constantly be updated and referenced - particularly during hard times. It can help guide and bring you back to square one.  

It can remind you why you started this journey in the first place.

Looking at your mission statement, values and goals, and then realigning them with the shifting landscape, can help you decide what the next move is.

Great Edmonton Examples

We think there are some great examples of local businesses right here in Edmonton that have pivoted their business while still managing to remain true to their roots.


4 Ice cream cones

Our first example is Yelo’d Ice Cream, a Filipino-inspired ice cream and bake shop on Whyte Ave. These guys have some of the best cookies and soft serve in Edmonton. When Covid-19 shut their shop down, they decided to go old-school and bring their ice cream directly to their customers with an ice cream truck concept.

That wasn’t all these creative minds did. They also installed plexiglass in the storefront window so that customers could stand outside, while keeping the safety of their staff at the forefront. We even saw them expand into the world of Tik Tok, creating some really fun messaging for their younger clientele.

Bloom Cookies

Cookies in a window on display

Our second example is Bloom Cookie Co. These guys used to sell their goods at craft sales and eventually began partnering with local places like Remedy to sell their products there. This quick-witted idea helped them expand into their own storefront downtown Edmonton on the always-bustling 124th street.

However, when Covid-19 shut them down and their partnering cafes were forced to reduce their seating, Bloom had to rethink how to get their tasty treats into people’s hands.

So what did they do?

Delivery cookie boxes!

Ingenious, right?

This allowed Bloom to keep the baking staff working safely in the store, while still doing what they love: selling their tasty treats across the Edmonton area. They even gave $5 of each box to the delivery drivers in order to create local jobs during a time where people were needing extra income and support.

Pizza boxes being delivered

The creative pivoting hasn’t stopped there.

We’ve seen yoga studios shift their classes online, fitness centers pivot to gym equipment rentals, clothing stores shift completely online with addictive Instagram show-and-tells, vodka and gin distilleries switch their products to hand sanitizer, and restaurants selling grocery boxes to make their signature dishes at home. The list goes on, and on, and on.

How Do You Pivot Properly?

Here in Edmonton, we saw people dig into their core business values while infusing new and creative ways to reach their customers. The businesses themselves never changed, just the business models.

Girl standing at computer

Places like Yelo’d and Bloom Cookie Co. took their passion and paired that with new technology, out-of-the-box thinking, and marketing tactics to reimagine how to serve their customers, keep their businesses open and stay on their feet during hard times.

If the time calls for a pivot, but you’re unsure how to take the first step:

  • Get back to basics
  • Remember what you do and why you love it
  • Implement creative strategies that reach your customers in authentic ways
  • Stay true to your roots

As they always say, when one door closes, pivot to the next!

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Edmonton is located within Treaty 6 Territory and within the Métis homelands and Otipemsiwak Métis Government Districts 9 & 10. We acknowledge this land as the traditional territories of many First Nations such as the Nehiyaw (Cree), Denesuliné (Dene), Nakota Sioux (Stoney), Anishinaabe (Saulteaux) and Niitsitapi (Blackfoot).
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