The birth and death of entire industries during COVID-19

It’s inarguable that COVID-19 has changed the course of the entire world. Rarely, if ever, has an incident rippled out to every nation on earth, shaking economic, social, political, and relational structures so rapidly and profoundly. We are living the pages of future history books that will recount our global scramble to contain, understand, and prevent the spread of this virus. Much like other global crises, this time won’t only be remembered for its trials, but for the remarkable ingenuity and grit of humanity. When faced with adversity, people prove time and time again that solutions and success can be reimagined and reinvented; out of difficulties, we are capable of creating something new. Stay-at-home orders closed the doors of thousands upon thousands of businesses, but rather than remaining stagnant, the entrepreneurial spirit soared. We may be witnessing the historical end of entire industries as the innovative solutions that buoyed them through the crisis may actually prove to be more successful and sustainable in a post-COVID world. Some say that it will take years to truly know what this pandemic has changed in our world. With that in mind here’s a look at industries whose entire existence is on thin ice, as well as those whose temporary “fixes” are likely around to stay.

Out with the Old

Obviously temporarily restrictions halted travel, leading to hundreds of billions of dollars lost to airline companies, causing Boeing to go from #1 to bailout in a matter of weeks. Despite the hit, though, investors are confident that the airline industry will survive. Others are unlikely to fare so well, however. Forbes recently predicted the extinction of movie theatres, department stores, and office space altogether. When Universal Studios and Disney both bypassed the 90-day “in-theatre only” standard to release Trolls 2 and Onward, a new precedent was set for production companies to head straight to digital platforms. With movie theatres in the final stage of reopening plans in most states, it remains a question if they will open again ever. Why pay money to sit in a potentially germ infested theatre for $15 per person when new releases appear directly to a streaming service you already pay for? The “production to personal-streaming” model may have been a conceivable trajectory for the film industry, but COVID expedited its inception. RIP extra-butter popcorn.

Furthermore, practically overnight, businesses who had never considered remote work as an option were forced to become savvy at Zoom, digital task softwares, and from-home team management. What did they find? It seems to work. Over the past few weeks major corporations such as Microsoft, Zillow, Facebook, and JPMorgan all decided to extend their work from home options for employees. Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, expressed that employees can even work from home “forever.” As businesses drop their office spaces like hot potatoes, the effect ripples across a variety of industries whose existence hinges on cubicle life. Consider what happens to corporate cleaners, in-office servers and technology, or the office furniture industry. Global Workplace Analytics estimates that employers can save nearly $11,000 per year for each employee that works from home, even just part-time. In order for industries such as corporate furniture manufacturers to stay relevant, there must be a rapid shift to adopt small batch or personal use sales or else everyone’s home office will look like page 23 of an IKEA magazine.

Even traditional employee structures and procedures are changing. “COVID has forced many small-business owners to come face to face with old processes that are limiting and need to be moved to a digital platform,” says Jeremy Allen, founder of System Six Bookkeeping. This remote bookkeeping firm has been helping businesses streamline their financial processes and transition to cloud-based platforms for nearly twelve years, but has seen a rise in interest over the past few months, especially in bread-and-butter service industries like painting, landscaping, carpet cleaning, and repairs. Remote payroll and paperless invoicing quickly became more than just a slick option, they became essential. COVID catapulted these small businesses from paper and desktop based systems to cloud accounting, with System Six not only stepping in to help with a seamless transition, but offering ongoing maintenance to boot. Outsourcing the day to day finances not only trims the annual budget, but equips small businesses with a team-based approach with access to financial experts that help navigate the available loans and grants. “COVID didn’t necessarily force some profound innovation in our industry, but rather a rapid behavior change,” says Jeremy. Though the technology has been around for years, you might finally be saying goodbye to carbon-copy receipts from your plumber or handwritten quotes from the chimney repair man.

In with the New

Instacart

While we may be saying good-bye to mega-gulps at the theater, Betty from finance, or our favorite department store in favor of Netflix and Amazon, new industries are emerging from their ashes. It’s no surprise that grocery delivery surged in the early weeks of the pandemic, with Instacart reporting a 500% rise in demand in their year-over-year statistics. Business Insider predicts that the world is watching the quality and performance of the major players in the delivery game to determine who will make the cut and stick around as the “go-to” choice of consumers. Experts agree that what was once considered a “luxury,” is quickly becoming the norm as delivery services have solidified themselves as essential in the marketplace.

Engedi Take-home hair color kits

Beyond the obvious changes in the way we get our toilet paper, small-businesses have gotten creative in the way that they serve their clients. West Michigan hair salon, Engedi, offered custom hair color kits “to-go” from their professional stylists. Mixed to the customer’s exact formula, these kits were complete with gloves, brushes, and video tutorials to keep roots looking fresh even if everyone is at home in their pajamas. Pizza parlors put together “DIY Family Pizza Kits” with risen dough and all the toppings, coffee roasters deliver bags of whole-bean directly to your doorstep, and most restaurants converted parking spaces to “Carry-Out” zones complete with text-in service, in-app ordering, and special menu offerings. It may seem logical to pick-up a burger curbside, but what about drive-through phlebotomy? In an effort to limit germ exposure in waiting rooms, blood-draw can now happen from the comfort of a vehicle as patients just stick their arms out the window at mobile drawing stations. We can probably all agree that stacks of magazines in the lobby will be a thing of the past, but with telehealth, drive through testing, and virtual portals the healthcare industry may never fully look like it did before.

Plenty of sectors remain in limbo, however, with more questions than answers about how they will emerge. The future of schooling is blurry, as educators, families, and students were put through a crash course in online learning over the past semester. “Nearly 1.2 billion children grades K-12 in 186 countries affected by school closures,” reports the World Economic Forum. The Ed-Tech industry has been around for 15–20 years, but closures in schools from kindergarten to graduate universities are pushing the industry to develop at an exponential rate, growing in a year or two what experts predicted would take a decade or more. With fear of a second wave, recreational staples such as amusement parks, gyms, summer camps, and pools remain closed, begging us to consider giving in and buying ourselves Peloton bikes and building trampoline parks for our kids in the backyard. Roller-coasters and camp cabins may, for a time, exist as relics of a pre-COVID world where sticky handles made you think of cotton candy, not a potentially deadly virus.

Regardless of the joy of avocados appearing at the doorstep or the comfort of Zooming in sweatpants, COVID-19 is sure to usher in waves of loss felt long after communities begin to open again. Just as travellers remember airports in the “pre-September 11” days, many of us will find ourselves starting stories with, “well, before 2020…” Grief researcher David Kessler, says, “we are grieving a world that we have now lost.” He recently added a sixth stage — “meaning” — to the commonly known 5 Stages of Grief developed by psychologist Elisabeth Kubler Ross. In a post-COVID world, perhaps our biggest challenge won’t be saying goodbye to beloved businesses or navigating new procedures, but will be in finding purpose and meaning through a pandemic that turned our world upside down. The ingenuity and determination of humanity in the face of adversity has led to innovation yet again, proving that despite the infinite changes in our world, one thing is steadfast: we are wired to persevere.

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