B.C. businesses brace for transition to a post-pandemic world

·3 min read
Last year, food provider Legends Haul quickly changed its business model from mainly serving restaurants to providing grocery delivery for households. In 2021, the company is hoping to retain the gains it made over the past few months.  (Legends Haul - image credit)
Last year, food provider Legends Haul quickly changed its business model from mainly serving restaurants to providing grocery delivery for households. In 2021, the company is hoping to retain the gains it made over the past few months. (Legends Haul - image credit)

Alex Ploughman had been running his business-to-business food supply service, Legends Haul, for only a year and a half before the pandemic hit and sales ground to a halt.

At the time, Legends Haul was mostly serving restaurants a bespoke selection of artisan local foods. But all that changed when B.C. declared a state of emergency and in-person dining was nixed.

"We were just sort of getting our stride and becoming a well-known company in the restaurant industry," Ploughman said.

Ploughman's business was one of many in B.C. that had to completely change their strategy in order to survive. He and his fellow co-founders noticed the insatiable need for grocery delivery, so they began to serve households instead.

Now, Legends Haul is joining other companies trying to anticipate where 2021 might take them, while trying to capitalize on gains and lessons learned in the past year.

They'll have to figure out if consumer needs have permanently altered or if they will they flock back to their old ways when the vaccine rollout has been completed and the province (hopefully) eases into a post-pandemic reality.

Keeping loyal customers

Marc-David Seidel, an entrepreneurship professor at the University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business, says most businesses' success will depend on how well they've performed in the past few months.

"They still are going to be able to retain those customers if the quality of their product is better than what's available through other sources, or if the experience somehow is so positive that the customer base who got used to using the service over the past year remains loyal," Seidel said.

University of British Columbia Sauder School of Business associate professor Marc-David Seidel says a hybrid approach of online and in-person services will likey be the future for many businesses.
University of British Columbia Sauder School of Business associate professor Marc-David Seidel says a hybrid approach of online and in-person services will likey be the future for many businesses. (Brian Howell)

Ploughman feels confident that Legends Haul will be able to capitalize on its home delivery model, which now includes a separate 15,000-square-foot building and 43 employees. He thinks customers have become accustomed to the convenience of ordering groceries online and having them delivered to their doorstep.

For those who prefer an in-person browsing experience, the company intends to open a store to showcase its favourite products.

Hybrid replaces pivot

Seidel says a hybrid approach of online and in-person services will be the key to success for many businesses in a post-pandemic future.

Heather Redfern, executive director of popular East Vancouver theatre The Cultch, says "hybrid" has replaced "pivot" as the latest buzzword in the arts sector.

"We cannot wait to get back and be doing live performances with in-person audiences," Redfern said. "But at the same time, we don't want to lose what we have learned and all that we have gained from streaming performances."

The Cultch is a popular performing arts space in East Vancouver.
The Cultch is a popular performing arts space in East Vancouver.(Christer Waara/CBC)

Like many businesses and organizations that have survived the past year, The Cultch quickly beefed up its digital content offerings. Redfern says streaming performances has helped The Cultch reach new audiences in other cities and helped connect with people who face various impediments getting to a live theatre show.

At the same time, organizations like hers aren't holding their breath waiting for a return to normal, especially as new variants continue to spread and vaccine efficacy against them comes into play.

"[The arts] were the first to be shut down and we will be the last to go back because that's just the way it's going to be," she said. "So what we've tried to do here is just be as flexible as we possibly can."

So in the meantime, Redfern is planning to continue with online live performances, while tentatively planning for small in-person activities as well.

"We can only make plans that can be adapted to whatever circumstances we're facing," she said.