Greg Smith set up an online store within three days of the first lockdown.
The owner of confectionery store Lollyology had to act quickly – he was sitting on $30,000 of unsold Easter stock when the national cabinet shut pubs and asked people to stay at home in March.
“And the funny thing about Easter chocolate is, as soon as it’s after Easter, no wants it,” Mr Smith said.
Overnight, sales at his store in Melbourne’s Westfield Knox shopping centre collapsed by 65 per cent and foot traffic plunged by 70 per cent.
He rushed to set up an online store to boost sales and shift the excess stock.
But then the question became: How do we get the message out?
With a limited budget, TV and radio was off the cards. And targeting the right customers on social media was proving difficult.
So Mr Smith went on the hunt for a marketing strategy that reached the people “who want to hear from me”.
He settled on bulk SMS text messaging – using a company called MessageMedia to inform customers of important changes to the business, after collecting their phone numbers during visits to the store.
“We’d communicate things like … ‘Sorry our store won’t be open late Thursday and Friday night. With the stage three lockdowns, we’ll be closing at 5.30pm. Oh, and by the way, here’s our website. If you want to order online, we’ll deliver’,” Mr Smith said.
“The challenge for small business is, how do you get your online presence out there, because it’s a very loaded space.
“It’s very hard to be seen and heard. But being able to communicate directly with customers who care, who are interested, who signed up willingly, is actually a real benefit.”
The confectionery store nonetheless suffered another 65 per cent drop in sales when the Victorian government reimposed stage three restrictions.
The demoralising loss came after the store had almost recovered to where it was before the pandemic took hold.
As such, Mr Smith said the scheduled withdrawal of JobKeeper in September was concerning.
But, even though he is confident that Lollyology will survive, he’s more worried about what happens to the retail sector over the next 12 to 18 months.
“Right now, people come to the shops for an experience. They walk into my store for an experience, because it’s bright and it’s colourful,” Mr Smith said.
But it could genuinely be that overall retail has moved 5, 10, 15, 20 per cent online and there’s just less people in the centre. So what does that mean for my lease? What does mean for my sales? What does that mean for my foot traffic?”
He later added: “If there’s 20 per cent less stores there, are there 20 per cent less customers walking through?”
Frankston-based personal trainer Adam Mayne is also relying on the humble text message to maintain his business during lockdown.
Operating under the banner of Mayne Fitness, he uses MessageMedia (bulk text messaging) to check in with clients after training sessions, to remind them to warm up 15 minutes before they start, and to suggest they buy another block of sessions when they’ve nearly run out.
“And it’s not just about keeping fit and healthy … it’s about mental health. We’re social creatures. We need to stay in contact with people. We need to check up on people,” Mr Mayne said.
The bulk texting was part of a broader shift online after gyms were ordered to close in March – a “devastating” announcement that slashed his revenue by 80 per cent.
After taking a few days to “settle down and come up with a plan”, Mr Mayne started offering personal training and small group sessions via Zoom and Microsoft Teams, and soon brought back a number of his clients.
Group sessions have proven more popular, he said, as even though “you’re not physically next to [your friends], you’re still with them”.
Clients are getting used to the medium, but Mr Mayne said it would take a long time for his business to get back to normal.
Asked if he was concerned about the planned withdrawal of JobKeeper in September, Mr Mayne said he was, but would find a way to make it work.
“We just have to roll with it, I suppose. We all have to do our bit,” he said.
“Adapt and overcome, basically.”