(Australian Associated Press)

The growing economic crisis following the human tragedy of the COVID-19 global pandemic has seen small business owners in Australia nimble to react, re-strategize, and pivot to stay afloat.

With the Gold Coast’s tourism industry decimated with losses exceeding $1billion and continuing to lose an estimated $310 million a month while travel restrictions continue, many of the city’s entrepreneurs and innovators are attempting to tap into new revenue streams in the face of the crisis.

The Gold Coast is an entrepreneurial city. Twenty percent of the workforce owns their own business. That’s one in every five people working for themselves and employing others.

For businesses such as Grandad Jack’s Craft Distillery, Aleeda, and Good Vibes Pilates and Yoga the unprecedented nature of COVID-19 has forced them to move quickly to adapt and survive.

David Ridden and son Luke, co-owners of Grandad Jack’s Craft Distillery in Miami, went from making award-winning gin, vodka, and liqueurs to firing up their stills to produce much-needed liquid hand and surface sanitiser.

“The Gold Coast is very much a small business city. It’s the culture here. We run the gauntlet every day and we have to think on our feet or you don’t last,” says David. “We rely on tourism and what comes with that is hospitality. Tourists and locals like to eat out. We literally had two of our biggest industries – tourism and hospitality – wiped out overnight.”

David and Luke pulled their staff of eight together and told them their only chance of survival was to make sanitiser.

“We produced our first lot of sanitiser by Wednesday and started selling it online on Thursday. The timing was good. There was a shortage and we had the equipment and expertise to produce it quickly. It is the only thing that saved our business,” says David. “Everyone in our team pulled together. We have been really surprised by the demand.”

With David’s wife working in infection control at Gold Coast University Hospital, access to the right information to make the best product to do the job was swift.

“Our brand is important to us so we needed to get it right,” he says. “We’ve made over 6,000 litres of sanitiser.”

A change in Queensland law allowing distillers to sell product online and an increase of followers on social media and their website because of sanitiser has been a positive.

“We’ve actually run out of our Greenhouse Gin purely from people going online to order sanitiser and seeing our gins,” says David. “What this has taught us is we need to be creative, resourceful and get on with it. None of us have gone through anything like this before.”

Glen Duggin, director of Aleeda, agrees. The Burleigh Heads wetsuit company in business since 1969 was impacted heavily before producing organic bamboo facemasks four weeks ago.

“We wanted to keep our business running and our people working. Making facemasks was in our ‘wheelhouse’, so to speak. We could use the equipment, tools, and systems we already had in place,” says Glen. “In four weeks we’ve sold 4,000 masks and have quotes to supply around 100,000. We’ve just had our first overseas customer come on board and we’ll be sending our masks to Singapore.”

“We are only selling wholesale at this stage. We haven’t approached our customer base yet. The response has been purely viral from LinkedIn and Facebook.”

A positive of COVID-19 has allowed Glen and Aleeda to assess their business with fresh eyes.

“We’re assessing things more quickly and being nimble,” says Glen. “It has made us change, it has made us look at things from a different perspective.”

Aleeda has been working with other local businesses too.

“We’re looking into putting bands on medical face shields for a local plastics business less than one kilometre from us. We previously had no relationship with them before this all started,” says Glen. “They didn’t know we could do what we do for them. They have large orders to fill.”

“Everyone is looking at their supply chain to see if there is someone locally who can do what they need for them,” he adds. “The filters we are using in our masks come from another local business. I am thinking more about the supply chain and other businesses prospering as customers look to buy local.”

Kylie Beeby, founder, and owner of Good Vibes Pilates and Yoga in Coolangatta had to move quickly to save her business of eight years and keep her ‘family’ of over 1000 clients healthy – mentally and physically.

“I started selling home pilates equipment packs and talked about the concept of taking our business online six weeks before the government shut us down. I didn’t expect it to happen so I wasn’t prepared,” says Kylie. “It took me a few days of craziness to adjust the client memberships and set live Zoom classes up but we got there.”

According to Kylie, her first live Zoom class was a classic.

“I didn’t realise I had to mute all the clients so we had cats, dogs, birds, doors slamming, and busy toddlers going on in the background,” she smiles. “I now mute everyone before we start the class and get them to wave at me if they need me.”

Kylie says her Good Vibes members are fabulous, appreciate the classes but are desperate to get back to the studio.

“The feedback I’ve received is how funny and ‘real’ our classes are. They’re missing the Good Vibes atmosphere, laughs, and being able to escape their families. I’m missing it big time!” she says.

With Good Vibes live and recorded classes, Kylie has attracted new clients previously not able to attend her special style of pilates and yoga fun.

“I’ve had wonderful new clients from all over the world,” says Kylie. “I’ve had clients say they want to do our classes when they can come here on holiday. They think our classes are a hoot!”

Kylie says she has a totally different outlook now for her business.

“I realise how important it is being around other people when exercising not only for the health and fitness side but for our mental health,” she says. “Over the years we have created a Good Vibes family. We laugh, cry, and sometimes get mad at each other but it has become a part of our everyday life to come to the studio and see all the heads.”

“We enjoy the transformation and life changes we have created. You just don’t get the full vibe when online,” adds Kylie. “I now realise we are totally different from other studios since this pandemic and I’m going to keep it that way. We are professional with a dash of crazy. It works for us and our clients.”

This feature has been produced in collaboration with City of Gold Coast