Stop Pivoting and Start Preparing

Sept. 22, 2020


According to the editors at Merriam-Webster, this trending word is used figuratively to indicate a shift in positions or tactics.

In actual interviews with operators back in March, this is what I heard:

“The companies that know how to pivot will survive.”

“We’ve pivoted before and we’ll pivot again.”

While there is plenty of pivoting going on, the most successful operators are the ones who will be fully prepared for what is coming next. Before we explore that, it is worth considering what type of pivoting has worked and what type of pivoting has been an epic failure.

Pivoting in the pandemic – some good choices

What kind of effective pivoting have we seen during the pandemic?

  • Dramatic staff cutbacks – unfortunate but essential
  • Stepping up the level of client communication and offering proactive solutions in the process
  • A focus on sanitizing – smart and necessary
  • A rush to use technology to eliminate touchpoints – critical and costly
  • Maximized route efficiency – important with limited staff
  • Selling more packaged products instead of bulk – catering to market demand
  • Increasing sales of sanitizers and PPE gear – accommodating a need

Pivoting to an epic fail

  • Pivoting too far: Every operator I have spoken to has confirmed my suspicion that trying to sell snacks to the work at home (WAH) market is challenging at best, and a disaster in some cases. Providing a WAH solution does offer a nice added value service to maintain existing client relationships, but starting a money losing service when resources are already strained is not a wise choice — or am I missing something?
  • Pivoting, then falling on your face: There are plenty of stories in our industry of large operators cutting back on staff to such an extent that they are unable to serve their functioning accounts. For their smaller competitors, this misguided pivot has been a tremendous opportunity to land new accounts that were typically beyond their reach.

As I pointed out in my latest video on the b2b Perspective Channel, pivoting makes sense when it allows an operator to stay focused on their core business. Find the opportunity to flourish within your own product line. Instead of pivoting too far, continue doing what you have been doing successfully for a long time – reinvention. Make subtle changes and find the strength that exists in your core business.

Most importantly, get ready for what is coming next.

Today — The ship turns quickly

As an operator, I always felt that market conditions changed slowly. Unemployment rates, office populations and sales volume changed gradually, but not overnight. We now know that “the ship can turn on a dime,” just as it did in March of this year when many operators went from the penthouse to the basement within days.

Depending on who you believe, when a COVID-19 vaccine becomes readily available (several vaccines are in Stage 3 testing), business conditions are going to change dramatically — in the right direction for operators. That assumes of course, that distribution will be efficient — a big assumption.

Be prepared for the uptick in business

In his September newsletter, Mike Kelner of VBB Advisors, the industry’s leading business broker, points to five things that operators should focus on as they prepare for the repopulation of the workplace.

1.     Target functional locations: Direct your sales team to pursue locations that are performing well even during the pandemic — essential services locations will be even stronger in the post-COVID era.

2.     Seize the opportunity to gain market share: I hear reports of excellent locations that are being underserved by operators who cut back too drastically or operators who simply do not have the resources to serve their clients. If a competitor is underperforming, that is your cue to up your game and grow your company.

3.     Retain key staff if possible: It was hard enough for operators to find qualified employees before the pandemic. Cutbacks were essential, but as an industry, we could find ourselves with a completely untrained workforce. Stay in touch with your former employees because you are going to need them when business kicks back in.

4.     Invest in touch free technology: The effort to limit touch points in our industry is not an overreaction. Even before the pandemic, that trash can near the door of a public restroom was there because so many patrons used a paper towel to avoid touching the door handle on the way out. As a society, we are wisely aware that avoiding touch points can prevent the spread of germs.

The demand for touch free technology is here to stay. As an operator, you need to invest in touch free technology.

5.     Maintain your access to credit: When the offices repopulate, operators and equipment distributors will be straining to keep up with the demand. When this big opportunity finally arrives, it is critical to have access to equipment. Use credit to stock up on single-cup brewers and micro market fixtures, all of which will be in demand and have the potential to be slowed up by a struggling supply chain.

Pent up demand

The prolonged duration of eating at home, drinking at home and working at home is clearly creating pent up demand, even as we recognize the risk of joining the general population. Every time a state lifts COVID-19 restrictions successfully, the public reacts with joy, packing restaurants and bars, rushing to hair and nail salons.

The halo around the work at home movement is wearing off. We will take a closer look at that sentiment next month. When employees feel safe and comfortable returning to the office, they will do so enthusiastically, especially if their children are in school. For hard hit coffee service operators, that will be good news. 

Be prepared …


I always appreciate your feedback –

Industry consultant and contributing editor Bob Tullio ( is a content specialist who advises operators in the convenience services industry on how to build a successful business from the ground up. Tullio recently launched a You Tube Channel, b2b Perspective, designed to “elevate your business in 2 minutes” and is currently developing an online course, “Leverage the power of LinkedIn to grow your business.”

As he is a recognized industry expert in business development and sales, NAMA hired him to write and narrate the new online course, “Selling Convenience Services,” which is now available. Use discount code B2B10 for an instant discount and for free access to upcoming Q & A Webinars from Tullio in the coming months. Here is a free sample of the course.








Bob Tullio
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