The third wave is upon us. As I write this, indoor dining, gyms, bowling alleys and museums are a no-go and stores are at 25% capacity. Life is definitely not the same as it was at the beginning of the year, and it looks like the life we knew back then may not be the life we live in the future.
Yes, a vaccine is on the way. We will get this pandemic under control. But then the hard work begins. Try as we might, every business isn’t going to make it through to the other side, even with federal and state support. The average small business had about $27,000 in cash on hand at the beginning of the pandemic. Unfortunately, the math for many won’t pencil out.
Even if the math works, the business model may not. Customers are changing their spending habits. They have become used to things like home delivery, takeout and curbside pickup of retail orders. They like shopping online. And even with a vaccine, they may feel safer at home, at least until herd immunity actually occurs.
For entrepreneurs and small business owners, there’s never been a time like this. But it is also one that is filled with opportunity, if you can make that leap that leap of faith from the way things are now to the way things may be somewhere down the road. Disruption in society always creates new opportunities. Trends that were already beginning to influence the market – technology, teleworking, automation – have significantly accelerated during the pandemic.
New ideas are already replacing some old ways of doing things. Look at the growth of ghost kitchens. These professional food preparation and cooking facilities don’t have a dining room or even a pickup window. They are delivery only, built to take advantage of DoorDash and Grubhub. More than one restaurant concept can be run out of a ghost kitchen, creating simplified restaurant concepts and fast prototyping since no front-of-house or expensive signage and decor is required. Plus, restaurants that share a ghost kitchen can take advantage of bulk buying of ingredients and share costly equipment that is used only occasionally. A restaurant’s concept can change overnight since the physical space – the ghost kitchen – stays the same.
There are some 1,500 ghost kitchens in the United States right now, and this number is expected to rise 25% each year for the next five years, creating an estimated $300 million in yearly sales. Food delivery revenue could top $24 billion by 2023.
This is just one example of tremendous changes taking place in the marketplace. As we’ve seen in the last year, the economy has been upended. Centuries-old businesses have closed their doors or filed for bankruptcy. That cherished space on the busiest corner in your downtown is suddenly available for a song. Online ordering allows any small business with a unique product or service to become a sales juggernaut. Social media can create more awareness for less money and in far less time than old-school TV and magazine ads.
Even as cities experience economic downturns, entrepreneurs continue to rise above the ashes. Where mega-corporations act timidly to protect shareholder value, small business owners are free to experiment and prototype.
Case in point, the Crocodile. Live music has been banned since spring, but the Crocodile – the place where Nirvana and Pearl Jam rose to fame in Seattle – decided to go big or go home. They left their current space for developers to battle over and are moving a couple of blocks away into the former home of El Gaucho. There, in the midst of a pandemic, they are creating a new multi-venue entertainment complex with a 750-capacity main concert hall, a 300-capacity space in the lower level, and a 96-capacity comedy club crafted from an old second-run movie house next door. The inn on the top floor will not only have a rock ‘n’ roll theme but house traveling acts. They are doing this knowing that they probably won’t be able to host live music until September 2021. Talk about rolling the entrepreneurial dice.
Your own idea doesn’t have to be that big. I would assume the owners of the Croc know that there will be a huge demand for live music and entertainment once we round the corner on the pandemic. If I were to bet on high-growth markets in the next couple of years, it would be live entertainment, restaurants, tourism and travel.
As you look around for new ventures, what stands out in your mind? Now is a great time to do some research to find those snippets of trends and ferret out new markets. Our SizeUp tool is a good starting place for this, but it is just one of many resources out there that will provide you with insights and data to support a new business venture or to help you rebuild or reconfigure your existing business.
Here are just a few of the new trends we may see become the next big thing:
- Online Mentorship. Building on our pandemic thirst for self-improvement, this trend connects consumers with experts, teachers and mentors who can help them advance their skills and achieve personal and professional goals. A 21st-century version of a life coach.
- Work-from-Home Services. More workers will be working remotely. They need help with cybersecurity, workspace ergonomics, lighting, time management and new technology integration. This will increase the demand for consultants and service technicians who can provide these services.
- Virtual Assistants. Time is more precious than ever. A virtual assistant can help you keep on top of bills, errands, home maintenance, make sure Fido gets his walk; any number of mundane activities that suck away precious time. This service is of particular interest to gig workers and freelancers who know all too well that time is money.
- Readymade Meals. People are tired of eating their own cooking. That’s why places like Blue Apron are popping up. But what about a meal kit delivery service made with locally sourced ingredients or cottage brands? This is particularly attractive to younger generations of workers who don’t have the time or interest in deciding what to make for dinner.
- 3D Custom Printing. The lower cost of 3D printers and increased demand from consumers and industries will help drive this category. Opportunities include making limited production runs of prototypes for companies and producing replacement parts for consumer-level products that still have a useful service life but no longer have a ready supply of available parts.
- Home Fitness. The pandemic is creating a crisis in fitness. Demand will increase for virtual personal training and equipment. This will be particularly true for teleworkers who want to get in a quick workout during their day without having to travel away from the home office.
- Teletherapy. Following on the heels of telehealth calls, there will be an increased need and market for therapy delivered by Zoom, app or phone as people come to grips with the ramifications of the pandemic and the residual fallout.
These are just a few of the endless possibilities savvy entrepreneurs and visionary business owners will find in the new economy. We will soon be on the road to economic recovery. The only question is, “Will you be there ahead of your competition?”
Somewhere north of the Emerald City, shopping for a good 3D printer to make that little doodad for my overworked coffeemaker,