Bacon maven and all-round entrepreneur Claire Vogtherr, inspired by the maxim that adversity makes you think hard, quickly and creatively, has reinvented her Holly Bacon business as an on-line hub for complementary meat, dairy products, fresh fruit and vegetables.
“The fear of losing your business, letting staff and customers down and not being able to pay your creditors makes you think very fast and outside the square on how to adapt and survive,” says Vogtherr.
The challenge was heightened by the fact that the meat industry typically requires settlement within 14 days; the bacon curing process takes three weeks and customers can take up to two months to pay.
“We lost our kitchen, our retail stores, the Farmers Market, our hospitality, catering cafes and restaurants … about 70% of our business … everything except the supermarkets,” says Vogtherr.
She hooked up with a few suppliers whose main outlet had been the Hastings Farmers Market on Sundays and now, Holly Fresh, which didn’t exist before lockdown, is a new expanded business.
That’s meant being able to keep 60% of her staff working full-time at 100% wages. “We had the bones in place; the website, social media, online and mobile EFTPOS for payment and logistics, we just weren’t using them fully,” says Vogtherr.
And she says many others are following a similar model, collaborating and targeting their offerings to meet specific customer needs. “The feedback we’re getting is that this form of purchasing will continue well after lockdown.”
Vogtherr’s Hastings retail outlet, Holly Bacon, remains shut even at level 3, the only difference is that people can now collect their online orders.
“The shop will always be a critical part of what we do. We were always doing online orders and door-to-door deliveries, but now it makes sense to be delivering more than meat to people’s homes and it’s grown from that.”
A lot of what has happened has been a natural extension of existing relationships between people with good reputations for paying their bills who deal in quality fresh produce and complementary products.
She believes part of the ongoing success will be local people determined to support local growers and businesses.
The delivery charge is currently only $5, and they’ll deliver anywhere in Hawke’s Bay with refrigerated vehicles and rural delivery people collaborating in delivering food packages with their rural parcels.
While collaboration is a big thing, Vogtherr says having the ability to manage your own technology is key, along with leveraging your database of customers. She says a lot of people have outsourced their technology and don’t have the control they need, and yet it’s become easy to use and flexible. “We managed to upscale from 30 products to 150 immediately.
And she says, “you’d be surprised how many businesses don’t know how to contact their customers if they’re not coming through the door.”
As well as delivering more of her own Holly Bacon products within the region than previously, she’s finding orders outside the region are now including fresh produce and Farmers Market items.
Vogtherr says there will always be adversity and it requires an appetite for risk, creative response and nimble thinking – “projecting the proposed scenario forward, assessing the risk involved and being able to make the required rapid changes”.
She suggests the lockdown has given communities the opportunity to rethink not only how they might be kinder and more tolerant, but also how purchasing decisions might become more regionally focused.