Twenty businesses from across the Moreton Bay Region have been involved in a USC research project to explore how they have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.
USC School of Business and Creative Industries Senior Lecturer in Entrepreneurship and Innovation Dr Retha de Villiers Scheepers says the team started the project in June, collecting data and interviewing business owners from July through to November.
The timing allowed the study to reflect on the effects of the shutdown period and how businesses coped with the staged easing of restrictions. Restrictions started to ease from May 1 and requirements changed almost every month, through to December.
Dr de Villiers Scheepers says industries such as accommodation, food services, arts, and recreation where tourism, sport (gyms) business operate in, have been the most severely affected.
The tourism sector is still suffering, despite the opening of state borders, due to the absence of international travellers.
“The economy is still closed to the international market so while we like to think things are back to normal, they’re not and probably won’t be until the middle of next year,” she explains
The researchers cross-checked the interviews with secondary sources and drew on data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).
This enabled them to contextualise the ever-changing situation businesses faced and reflect on the stress experienced by business owners.
They have considered measures the government is using to stimulate the economy, and other macro-economic indicators such as variations in Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The ABS has been conducting business surveys almost every quarter on the expected impact of the pandemic and this information has also been useful.
The researchers also completed a literature review on the impact of crises on businesses which revealed four types of responses – termination, survival, adaptation and innovation.
None of the businesses interviewed fell into the termination category, 20 per cent were in survival mode with a “wait-and-see” stance, 60 per cent were adapting and showing resilience by developing new skills, capabilities and resources to perform business activities in a way that suited the changing environmental conditions, and 20 per cent were innovating their business activities in multiple ways.
“In our opinion, businesses that have adapted and innovated are likely to be more sustainable in the future because what we will see in the world in 2021 is a massive blend of physical and digital ways of living,” Dr de Villiers Scheepers says.
“Businesses that have taken a wait-and-see stance are more at risk, as their competitors are likely to have adapted and innovated their business activities.”
“Early results have already given us a better understanding of the ways we can support businesses as they adapt, innovate and come out the other side of the pandemic,” Mr Newcombe says.
“We look forward to receiving the findings and recommendations early next year and using them to help our local economy, and the businesses that support it, recover.”
Dr de Villiers Scheepers says the study will build knowledge because Australia has not experienced a recession in 30 years and this one has been accompanied by health and social shocks not felt for more than 100 years.
“We hope the lessons that come out of our study are valuable to the chambers of commerce and other bodies that support local business,” she says.
“We hope the case studies will inspire other business owners and help them see a way to regroup, reset and recover in 2021 and beyond.”
Dr de Villiers Scheepers says digital adoption has been big, with some businesses discovering markets they didn’t realise existed.
Samford-based STEM Punks is a good example. The business which previously focused on resources for teachers in the classroom has since discovered a worldwide home-school market for parents and students.
World Gym Burpengary’s Justin Bellas started Raw Power meals and is now delivering healthy pre-prepared meals across Queensland.
“Justin has found a real niche market and it’s bigger than the World Gym he runs in Burpengary,” she says.
“I’m not saying everyone should do what these two businesses did, but the variety of business case studies can inspire other people to think how can I serve others not in my immediate local area?”
Embracing digital technology gives local businesses a bigger reach but also help businesses to collaborate and connect directly with consumers, as has been demonstrated by the formation of REKO Rings in the region.
Through these networks, growers use Facebook groups to take and receive orders for fresh produce and goods which are collected by consumers from central pick-up points at Dayboro and Samford.
“I was surprised by how quickly many business owners were able to recover from the shock and try to see a silver lining. I’ve been blown away by businesses that have started during the height of the pandemic,” Dr de Villiers Scheepers says.
The businesses that researchers have spoken to have mentioned how grateful they have been for the support and information provided by Regional Development Australia Moreton Bay and MBRIT throughout the pandemic.
“I think people now feel like they’re part of Moreton Bay … that idea we-are-Moreton Bay is growing,” Dr de Villiers Scheepers says.