An innovation nation rises to the challenge

COVID-19 may have dealt the economy a body blow, but quick-thinking Australian businesses are finding ways to repurpose and keep trading.

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Unknown outside China until 31 December 2019 when authorities in that country alerted the World Health Organisation to an unusual pneumonia, COVID-19 has since turned economies and societies around the world upside down. Here in Australia, a series of shutdown measures aimed at slowing the spread of the virus has made ‘business as usual’ an impossibility and forced enterprises of all sizes and stripes to scale down operations and lay off staff.

But Australians are tough and resourceful, and never more so than when the chips are down. Scores of local business owners are refusing to allow themselves to become collateral damage. Instead, they’re finding ingenious ways to transform their enterprises to enable them to stay in business – serving their communities and keeping employees in jobs – during this time of unprecedented uncertainty and challenge.

Smart businesses stepping up

One company innovating is Queensland-based Evolve Group, a product design and manufacturing facility best known for its Poolrite brand of pool and spa equipment and for Tred, an off-road recovery device for four-wheel-drive vehicles.

In early April, the company announced it was ready to start producing N95 surgical masks and a medical grade face shield of its own design, to help combat Australia’s well-documented shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE).

The Australian fashion industry has also heeded the government’s call for local suppliers to help plug the PPE shortfall. Some labels have switched to stitching surgical scrubs, after seeing demand for their regular ranges dwindle.

Brewers and distillers have been equally quick to spot an opportunity in adversity and meet a pressing community need in the process. Hand sanitiser was in short supply in supermarkets and pharmacies before brewers began repurposing their raw alcohol reserve to produce thousands of litres of high-quality product each day.

Businesses in the services sector are switching their focus too. Recent research from the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed more than 70 per cent of accommodation and food services businesses had made changes to their workforces in the wake of the government’s shutdown measures. But not all the jobs have dried up. Around the country cafes and restaurants have branched out into takeaway, some selling pantry staples and gourmet groceries, along with their own menu favourites. Some independent fruiterers and butchers are enjoying a brisk trade after also starting to offer contactless delivery services.

Meanwhile, many allied health practices have joined their medical counterparts in taking their services online. They are delivering occupational therapy, speech pathology, physiotherapy and psychology services via tele-practice, as have lawyers, accountants and other professionals for whom face-to-face client contact was formerly the norm.

Embracing change on the fly

NAB Business Direct & Small Business Customer Executive Ana Marinkovic says being able to embrace change and pivot direction, as so many Australian businesses have done, can be critical to long-term sustainability and success.

Doing so typically entails identifying a new business problem or market need and using your experience and resources to solve or meet it.

“There’s an old saying that necessity is the mother of invention,” Marinkovic says. “When the requirement for something becomes urgent, human ingenuity invariably comes into play – and people find a way.”

For some businesses, that may mean retooling equipment in order to manufacture or modify a product for which there is high demand. For others, it may entail altering their mode of delivery – offering services online instead of face to face, or products dropped off at the customer’s door rather than sold in store.

“Being able to evolve or adapt quickly to changing circumstances can help businesses survive and thrive in uncertain times,” Marinkovic says.

“It’s inspiring to see so many NAB customers thinking on their feet, rising to the challenge and, in true Australian style, giving it a red hot go. We take great pride in being able to support them as they drive their businesses in new directions.”

Partnering with NAB

NAB has a long history of partnering with individuals who want to capitalise on emerging opportunities, across a range of industries and sectors. Its specialist business banking team is working closely with customers as they pivot, innovate and diversify in response to the Coronavirus crisis.

For information on how NAB is supporting businesses in this time, see our coronavirus hub.