How This Food Tour Business Pivoted to Support Local Eateries During the Crisis
Adriano and Pina Ciotoli were featured on the July cover of 'Entrepreneur' for the innovative way their business kept relationships with customers front-and-center.
Entrepreneur's July 2020 cover featured not one or two people but a whopping 137. Why did we put 137 people on the cover? Read all about it in Jason Feifer's editor's note. Adriano and Pina Ciotoli are two of those people, whom we highlighted for the creative way they pivoted their Ontario, Canada-based food tour and events business, WindsorEats. When tourism halted in their area, the duo created specialty delivery boxes of items like beer and wine that gave their company a source of revenue and supported local businesses.
Read on for a Q&A with Adriano and Pina, which covers how the pivot went, what they learned and how your business can emulate their success.
Q: When this all hit, you pivoted to specialty deliveries. How did that go?
Adriano and Pina Ciotoli: The Bevy Box went extremely well and continues to provide a revenue stream as well as ideas on how to evolve the idea during and post-pandemic. It provided people an opportunity to not only support our company but also dozens of locally owned wineries, breweries, distilleries and coffee roasters within our region.
As things progressed, the Bevy Box evolved to include other businesses. One of our most popular items became our Ultimate BBQ Kit, which included products from a local butcher shop (The Butcher of Kingsville), a national award-winning sausage maker (Robbie's Gourmet Sausages), buns from a local 100-year-old bakery (Blak's Bakery) and a local pickle company (Lakeside).
We even had wine and pottery kits and a book club with a local publisher and bookstore to help provide some entertainment for people needing to clear their minds and relax a little.
What did you learn?
We learned that we're capable of much more than we think. When everything shut down, we lost 100 percent of our revenue stream, the majority of which came from tours, events and festivals. The entire situation really made us reevaluate everything from how we implemented programs and experiences to our entire business model.
It's quite incredible what the possibilities are when you venture outside of your comfort zone. Our entire business model is centered around people coming together. With large festivals and events not being viable in Canada for the foreseeable future, we have to reimagine what gatherings will look like. We've reshaped our tours and are in the process of revamping what our events might look like post-pandemic.
Collaboration is key. Work with other small businesses in your community. That becomes even more important in a time of crisis. There is often power in numbers, but there is also the ability to support one another and to brainstorm and riff in ways that may not be possible for larger businesses. Having like-minded small businesses owners believe in what we do and then offer their knowledge and advice helped guide us and keep us sane — and vice versa. We checked in with many who were just not sure what to do, and having another person to talk to who understood and could help guide them was invaluable.
Our community learned that small businesses play a significant role in creating a city that is vibrant, unique and worth visiting or living in.
Is there something you'd change about how you initially approached things in March and April?
With family located in different parts of Europe, in particular Italy, we were paying very close attention to the virus and its impact on people and businesses there. As a result, we began preparing for the worst before March approached and were able to hit the ground running.
This allowed us to take the approach to not only implement programs and ideas to help ourselves, like the Bevy Box, but it also allowed us to set up support for the hospitality and tourism businesses that we work with.
Hindsight always makes you wish you could have done more, like put aside more cash reserves, or approached and implemented certain things differently. No one truly knew the extent of what was to come or for how long we'd be affected, but we're quite proud of the impact that this small little business was able to react and support others.
Do you see this pivot as a way to change your core business model? Is that something you'd want?
We believe that small business owners should always be looking at and reevaluating their business plans and models to some extent. The pivot just brought that to the forefront in a much larger way.
Being open to new ideas and opportunities helps in evolving and growing your business. WindsorEats itself started off as solely a menu listing and restaurant guide. As we grew, we identified gaps in the industry and eventually started offering tours, events and festivals that continued to highlight the culinary clients and partners we worked with.
We've been fortunate enough to have our work recognized with local, provincial and national tourism awards and have a lot of knowledge and experience marketing and developing the hospitality and tourism industries. The success with the work we did at the start of the pivot to provide support and programs for businesses in those industries, from providing webinars with lawyers and accountants to guide them through government programs to marketing support has definitely put us on a path to expanding in the direction of providing destination management and experience development support for others.
What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs who are similarly looking to change their business models?
What the pandemic has shown us is that there have been no crazy ideas that should be outright dismissed. One of the benefits small businesses have is that they can adjust much more quickly than larger corporations. As things continue to change so rapidly, our approach was to maximize that advantage and implement ideas as we created them. The market and how people spend their money has changed dramatically since the start of the pandemic and continues to change quickly. We let our customers and their purchasing power decide which products and services were worthwhile to invest more into.
This isn't saying implement something without thinking it through. We were still making evidence-based decisions; we simply reduced and adjusted the process we normally take when creating a new experience or service knowing customers were much more understanding of the circumstances.
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