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Lessons from lockdown: How two Melbourne businesses thrived

Melbourne lockdowns were among the toughest in the world – and they forced businesses to see the world differently and try out new things. Here’s how two businesses changed their approaches and ended up stronger.

At a glance

  • By simplifying its menu, Shakez has significantly improved business. operations and the bottom line.
  • Ditching its ‘dine in’ option and changing to a takeaway online business has kept costs down too.
  • For Melbourne-based flower wholesaler Blush Petals, a determination to source flowers no matter what has enabled it to continue to grow.
  • A focus on digital marketing helped expand the customer base and serve existing customers.

Amid the uncertainty COVID has created, businesses have changed direction, introduced new thinking and adopted tactics they may not have considered previously.

We spoke to two Victoria-based business owners about the lessons they learnt over the past two years, and how their experiences have influenced each business’s direction today.

Homing in on the local market

Lockdowns made the locals around Armadale-based protein smoothie and juice business Shakez stationary – creating an opportunity to become part of new routines and to expand the local customer base.

“The lockdowns limited people to a 5km radius,” says Ashvin Sridhar, who founded the brand with his wife in 2016. “People started exploring what’s on their doorstep more, and started adding our shakes into their daily routine.” 

However, with the influx of clientele – who were also hesitant to hang around anywhere too long unnecessarily – Ashvin spotted an opportunity to convert the business into a pure takeaway model. 

“We just kept getting busier and busier,” he says. 

This caused its own issues, however, because queues were wrapping around the store as people descended on Shakez for their daily protein hit – it wasn’t ideal from a health or safety perspective. 

“We gave people the option of calling their order in, and promoted it in-store as well as on social media and online,” Ashvin says, explaining that while Shakez kept loyal customers informed via organic social media posts, the majority of customer calls came in via the Shakez Google business profile. 

“People jumped at it. Their drink was ready when they arrived. It just became a very streamlined model that was easier to operate, and we started looking at the business in a far different way,” Ashvin says. 

“Even today, 80 per cent of our orders are placed in advance.”

As well as changing the business model to move to a takeaway, order-ahead service, Shakez simplified its menu, removing more than 15 items that only sold occasionally and focusing on the core group of products that were in high demand. 

“Before COVID, we had so many items on our menu and it required a lot of preparation,” Ashvin says. 

“We stripped it right back and kept only the best sellers, and by doing that we doubled our revenue.”  

 By stripping back the menu, pivoting to a takeaway-only business and promoting ordering ahead via social media, Shakez has dramatically changed its business model – so much so, in fact, that it’s now in a position to look at franchising.  

 “We’ll keep it in Melbourne to begin with, but our ambition is to take it nationwide,” says Ashvin.

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An enviable determination to say it with flowers

Melbourne-based online wholesale flower business Blush Petals was only launched in 2019 – and then COVID-19 hit.  

Events were cancelled, supply chains hit hard and stores shut. Getting hold of stock was a major challenge and the business, barely a seedling, was not thriving. 

However, founder Anubhav Sharma soon spotted an opportunity – people working from home still wanted flowers, and competitors were falling by the wayside. 

Anubhav is an engineer by trade – he’d handled large-scale infrastructure projects in Singapore and Dubai before moving into the flower industry when he arrived in Australia.

So he put his logistical experience to good use, chartering flights to import the flowers that would keep his business going.

“The reason we’re successful today is because we remained committed to delivering products to our customers on time,” he says.

Through COVID, business has increased from one million stems per week to between 1.5m and 1.7m per week today –  and Sharma attributes the growth to a number of factors. While solving the supply chain issues is number one, a strong digital marketing strategy was also very important.

“We launched a new website, shot new photography and invested heavily in our social channels. We used email marketing to keep our customers up to date with what we’re doing, while Instagram has been used to engage new customers and show them our portfolio of products,” he says.

COVID disrupted the flower business just as it did many others, but by seizing opportunities rather than seeing only challenges, Blush Petals has cemented its place as a major player.

“It was a great levelling period,” says Sharma. “Everyone started from zero again. We were able to establish some new product lines which used to be the stronghold of another competitor, and we aggressively went into product lines we might not have gone into had COVID not happened.”  

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