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How to Pivot Your Small Business to Help During COVID-19

Skye Schooley
Skye Schooley

Bently Heritage Estate Distillery pivoted its estate distillery and public house business to provide its community with sanitizers during the coronavirus crisis.

Bently Heritage Estate Distillery comprises two refurbished, historic landmarks that have been transformed into an estate distillery and public house. The proprietors of Bently Heritage Estate Distillery, Christopher and Camille Bently, built their spirits business on the values of respecting history, cherishing the land, and paying respect to old-world techniques while innovating a new path forward.   

"As a true estate distillery, we guide the entire sustainable process in house, from growing the grains on our own land to aging and bottling every spirit we distill," Brady Frey, chief operating officer of Bently Heritage Estate Distillery and Bently Enterprises told "We don't believe in shortcuts, and you can taste this vision in every glass." 

As the pandemic spread, the Bently Heritage team quickly realized it needed to pivot its services to help its community and be a part of the solution. Instead of temporarily closing, Bently Heritage retrofitted its business to produce hand sanitizer and disinfectant, and donate it to the most vulnerable members of its community. 

We spoke with Christopher Bently and Brady Frey to learn how (and why) they successfully made the pivot, what challenges they overcame, and how other businesses can follow their lead. 

The importance of giving back to your community

Volunteering and giving back to your community doesn't just "feel good," it can benefit your company in many ways. For example, it can boost employee morale and build a positive company culture. It also creates feelings of goodwill for your business. When you reach out to individuals and organizations in need, you can build lasting community connections that can benefit your business long term. 

For some businesses, "helping your community" might involve taking strategic cost-cutting measures to keep your team; for others, it may involve pivoting your business model to generate products or services that are in dire need. For others, it may involve donating products, services, or time to individuals or organizations in your community. 

"Those who can should find a way to help," said Bently. "It's during hardships when help is needed most. It is everyone's responsibility to improve our world, especially during times of a crisis." 

"If we don't help the community, there will be no community," said Frey. "All of us are impacted by this crisis, and we all want to make a difference. We feel lucky we [Bently Heritage Estate Distillery] had a practical way to help, and the right thing to do was to give it for free to those who needed it most."  

How to retrofit your business to help your community during a crisis

Every business and community is different. How you pivot your company will be unique to your situation. When adapting your business model to aid others during a crisis, think about what products and services are in demand – whether that be locally, nationally or globally. Then, come up with a list of practical business options that are potentially viable for your company. 

Frey said business leaders can begin to pivot their business by making a strategic business plan. To get started, answer the following questions: 

  1. What can I do?
  2. How can I do it?
  3. How would it impact things?
  4. How am I solving problems for other people?
  5. What is my distribution for that?
  6. Who are my clients for that?
  7. What are my revenue losses or gains?
  8. How do I need to grow from here? 

When Frey and the Bentlys considered what Bently Heritage Estate Distillery could reasonably do to help, they looked to their community to see what was needed and what was already being done. They quickly found that there was a sanitizer shortage and that other distilleries were talking about converting their production facilities.  

"When the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau waived provisions and began allowing distilleries to produce sanitizer, we immediately began converting our distillery into a hand sanitizer production plant," said Frey. "It was the perfect opportunity for us to step up and do something that was in our wheelhouse to support our communities." 

When pivoting your business to help your community, Frey said it is important to have open communication with your fellow community leaders. Discuss what's happening now, what the post-pandemic future will look like and what you can do to continue to make your community a better place. 

Obstacles to overcome when pivoting your business

When altering your business strategy to offer a different product or service, you will run into obstacles. 

When we asked Frey what obstacles Bently Heritage Estate Distillery encountered and how they addressed them, he listed four major obstacles and solutions. Keep these solutions in mind when you are adapting your business or looking for opportunities to give back to your community during the coronavirus crisis. 

1. Keeping your team safe

A primary concern for any business owner during this time is how to keep your employees safe and healthy. While many businesses have transitioned to a companywide work-from-home policy, some teams are still working on the frontlines. At Bently Heritage Estate Distillery, they knew their production line would involve team members coming in to work, so they had to find a solution that would allow them to work together as safely as possible. 

"We were concerned with having employees work closely together in the midst of a pandemic when people have been asked to stay at home to flatten the curve," said Frey. "To address all the risks, our leadership got together to formulate a plan that addressed how our employees could safely and efficiently work together in smaller teams, and we outlined the implications if someone were to get sick." 

2. Evaluating the financial loss

When you close down the financially profitable arm of your business and switch to producing something that you will be giving away at cost or free of charge, you are going to take a hit to your bottom line. 

You have to consider whether it is feasible for your business to sustain the financial loss. If you can financially afford it, weigh the pros and cons to help you decide if the benefits of contributing to the well-being of your community are worth that financial loss. 

When Bently Heritage Estate Distillery compared the financial loss of producing and donating hand sanitizer and disinfectant with the value their efforts would provide to its community, the Bentlys decided that it was worth it. 

"Compared to our regular operations, any loss seemed modest when we realized we're able to help both staff and community members," said Frey. 

3. Determining whom to help

Choosing whom you support and how much assistance you can provide is important. Can you offer mass production of products nationwide, or do you only have the resources to aid your local community? Who will benefit the most from your support? Determining who would get their sanitizers, and why, was a hurdle that the leaders at Bently Heritage Estate Distillery had to address. 

Frey said they formed guidelines to define who they determined were vulnerable populations by using an ethical decision-making model. With this model, they decided to donate their sanitizers to the following groups: local healthcare organizations, first responders (e.g., police, paramedics, firefighters, rescuers, military personnel, and public workers) and care facilities(e.g., nursing homes, disability care, mental healthcare, childcare, foster care, and emergency shelters).  

4. Sourcing new materials  

If you don't already have the right production line and supply chain in place for your new product or service, you will have to create one. Bently Heritage Estate Distillery's biggest challenge with production was sourcing containers and acquiring nonalcohol ingredients like hydrogen peroxide and glycerin to make the sanitizer. 

As a solution, they reached out to local hospitals to obtain the ingredients they needed, as these are chemicals that hospitals often have access to. They also had to source new materials to retrofit their production line.  

"As for containers, we realized quickly that the manpower needed to fill smaller containers was not feasible for our team, so we sourced 55-gallon drums and outfitted them with pumps," said Frey. "The larger drums were far easier to come by than your traditional small hand sanitizer container, and have worked well stationed at hospitals, healthcare facilities, and law enforcement headquarters." 

Although it may not be easy, every business owner should look for ways to practice corporate social responsibility. If you have the ability and resources, consider how you can use your business to help those in your community – especially during times of crisis. Not only will you be helping others, but you will boost your company's culture, creating community connections and building goodwill and awareness around your business.

Image Credit: Sitthiphong / Getty Images
Skye Schooley
Skye Schooley Staff
Skye Schooley is a staff writer at and Business News Daily, where she has written more than 200 articles on B2B-focused topics including human resources operations, management leadership, and business technology. In addition to researching and analyzing products that help business owners launch and grow their business, Skye writes on topics aimed at building better professional culture, like protecting employee privacy, managing human capital, improving communication, and fostering workplace diversity and culture.