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Ideas for taking your business virtual and trying new services

Photo by Karolina Grabowska

Out-of-the-box thinking, growth from mistakes, and quick pivots have helped businesses find success during the pandemic, serving as bright spots in a time that has been difficult for local businesses. Businesses have discovered new ways to service their customers, from expanding into new services to offering virtual experiences—which has pleasantly surprised and accommodated customers and generated revenue in a time when staying afloat has been tough. 

Businesses that traditionally relied on the in-person experience were forced to think hard about how they should position themselves. Restaurants started shipping items nationwide, retail stores launched curbside pick-up options, and experience-focused businesses have taken entirely new approaches to not only survive but to also elevate their brand.

Expanding to new services and products

Every business across every industry has been affected by COVID-19, forced to figure out new ways to make money. Some businesses even went an entirely new direction, expanding to services they’d never offered before.

Heliflights, which offers both flight services and an aviation school, turned its massive airport field into a drive-in movie. Equipped with expansive real estate, it capitalized on a unique opportunity where customers could catch a flick from their cars

Powercycle, a two-location cycling studio in Wisconsin, now rents their bikes out for customers to use at home. With in-studio numbers capped, there are extra bikes available, so they offer temporary rentals, which is less of a commitment than purchasing a bike outright like larger competitors.

230 Fifth Rooftop is New York City’s largest rooftop garden with a skyline view that is frequently visited by both tourists and locals. The rooftop now screens movies that can be viewed from the comfort (and warmth) of a private, rentable, heated igloo.

The Blowout Co., Tennessee’s first blowout bar, extended its services in the height of the pandemic. They originally only offered hair drying and styling but now provide full-service salon options like cut, color, and more.

Food-based businesses like Cali Comfort BBQ and Sydney’s Sweets didn’t let restaurant closures across the country dissuade them from servicing their customers—they each created products that could ship nationwide. Cali Comfort BBQ bottled and shipped its signature barbecue sauce. With a focus on their digital marketing and customer connections, they’ve managed to find success and build their brand. In 2020, bakery Sydney’s Sweets had its busiest year yet, making its now-signature cake jars available to ship nationally as a way to provide goods when foot traffic was nonexistent. 

Boutique shop Talluah Jones prides itself on the in-store experience, and they’ve taken a unique approach to preserve that—by shifting to an in-store, “appointments required” model, providing customers with a safe, in-person shopping experience.

Going virtual

Many businesses have adopted a digital approach—either partially or completely—in an effort to safely provide services to their customers. From magic shows to wine-buzzed painting classes, these businesses brought their specialities online in unique fashion.

Ticketed events 

In-person entertainment spanning from live music and theatre to comedy and magic are live streaming their shows so people can watch from the comfort of their home while still having an engaging experience. 

The Magician, an award-winning magic show, has created a unique virtual experience. Magician Dan White ships each guest a box before the show and uses the items in the box to deliver an engaging and interactive performance.

Companies like Silverspot and Marquee give guests the opportunity to rent out the entire theatre for a private screening, making it easy and safe to enjoy the in-person movie theatre experience.

Some organizations, festivals, and artists have created online-only performances, featuring both local and mainstream artists. Sofar Sounds—a music experience based on secret locations that are only disclosed to ticket holders the day of the show—provides local artists a stage through its “listening rooms” and offers listeners the opportunity to book virtual private parties with individual artists.

Instructional classes 

Classes that typically require the eye of an instructor—like candle making and painting lessons—have found ways to take their businesses online. The Candle Pour offers an online custom candle experience where you can choose your scent and have it delivered to your door.

Cooking classes have transitioned to the digital screen as well. Pizza School NYC, known for its intimate four-hour classes, offers virtual pizza-making classes and at-home pizza kits

Schools are offering online options too. Seattle’s improv school and theater Unexpected Productions offers a virtual open mic, helping improvisers of all levels practice their skill in a safe online forum.

Other classes that traditionally benefit from a physical location are also providing virtual options, like writing classes from Gotham Writers Workshop, fitness classes with DivaDance, music lessons from Alexandria Music, personal training sessions by Thaddeus Harvey, and more

Midwestern florist Flowers For Dreams paired up with Chicago’s Sweet Shot Cookies on a Virtual Valentine’s Workshop. They will send virtual guests a kit with flowers, a vase, clippers, cookies, and frosting syringes. During the Zoom event, the group will learn how to decorate a four-pack of cookies and then create a Valentine’s flower arrangement with the floral artists.

BrushCapades Seattle, previously operating in person only, is now offering a wide range of classes online. They also have supply kits—complete with a canvas, paint, brushes, palette, and apron—available for pickup or shipped.

Event planning company Modern Rebel is not only offering their own services virtually, but they’ve launched a new consulting service that helps clients figure out how to take their own events virtual.

Virtual retail

Starbright Floral Design, like many, faced a time when shutting down their physical location meant they couldn’t deliver their product. While it was closed, owner Nic Faitos decided to continue to accept orders with the promise of sending arrangements out as soon as they were able to open back up. In the meantime, they sent virtual bouquets, giving their clientele something memorable in the interim. They also started flower arrangement classes for locals, shipping kits the day before.

Photo from Starbright Floral Design

Museums

Museums all around the world are offering virtual tours where you can view the art and exhibitions in your pajamas. Some offer online events and programming, such as New York City’s world famous Guggenheim Museum where you can have live conversations, watch performances, or take classes. The Whitney Museum also offers educational programming multiple times a week via Zoom to give people a chance to engage with artists, scholars, and more. The Art Institute of Chicago, The Broad in Los Angeles, Detroit Institute of Arts, and Atlanta’s High Museum of Art are all offering virtual opportunities to view their unique displays, exhibits, and collections.

Team-building activities and entertainment  

Many companies are working from home, but it can be difficult to build team camaraderie through the walls of a screen. BreakoutIQ shifted to customized remote trivia, virtual escape rooms, and a “founder round” game where players innovate and pitch their ideas to the other team—all available for teams of any size, anywhere. They also shared these tips for working with your team remotely. Similarly, Museum Hack, mainly known for museum tours, has put a focus on unique activities that can be done with teammates or friends virtually, like “Remote MTV Cribs” and “Virtual Pub Trivia.”

Event and tour company Tyler’s Mystery Tours created an immersive, entirely at-home experience on its own platform offering social events such as scavenger hunts and murder mysteries. 

Inspired by its in-person events, Live in Theater created digital experiences for private parties and corporate events from game shows to social scavenger hunts.

Escape rooms take on a whole new meaning when played from home. Just like Houston’s Escape Hunt, these events put you up against the clock to escape—digitally. “The Treasure of the Aztecs” invites guests to decipher ancient Aztec clues to find Montezuma’s lost treasure, and players become detectives with “Stolen,” which involves five treasures and five notorious thieves.

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