Uni researcher swaps distilling gin for sanitiser

Dr Thomas Simnadis is the director of Headlands Distilling Company which switched from distilling vodka and gin to make sanitiser. Supplied image.

A Tauranga academic has been using his business and distillery skills amid the current crisis to make lemons out of lemonade – or, in this case, sanitiser out of alcohol.

Dr Thomas Simnadis, a research fellow at the University of Waikato Tauranga campus, and director of Headlands Distilling Company in Australia, has drawn on his alcohol producing skills to meet the hand sanitiser shortage in the market. 

A research fellow in strategic management, Thomas knows a thing or two about pivoting business models in order to adjust to new ways of working.

“In the lead up to the Covid-19 crisis, we were starting to see sales of vodka and gin slow,” says Thomas.

“However, it was not clear whether these signals were indicative of a broader trend or simply a blip on the radar. We took this observation on board and began reconfiguring our production process.”

Thomas says the key component of hand sanitiser is ethanol, and producing this very ingredient is one of the core capabilities of his distillery.

“The ability to adapt our process to produce a completely different product enabled us to quickly reorient production away from craft spirits to hand sanitiser. The pivot into hand sanitiser was swift and seamless.”

As an expert in business strategy, Thomas says one of the best ways for businesses to adapt to crises, like Covid-19, is to be ready for shocks before they destroy business value.

“Once the shock has materialised, adaptation requires an understanding of how customer habits have evolved, and offering products and services that can fulfil customer needs.

“The shock generated by Covid-19 has been far reaching and touched almost every industry. Much like the virus, no one is immune from its effects.”

He says that despite the lack of immunity there are certain activities that, even in the midst of the crisis, can be undertaken to boost the prospects of long-term survival.

“Leaders should look to define their business’s core capability, and think broadly about ways it could be applied to solve problems. Once you’ve identified the core purpose of your business, consider shedding peripheral activities that are not directly contributing to the business’s value proposition.”

He goes on to say that businesses should start conversations with others that may be struggling, and look for ways that unmet customer needs could be solved by forging collaborative relationships.

“You’ve got to prepare for recovery and start envisaging offerings that will appeal to customers in the post-Covid-19 era. Think about which market segments you can appeal to and how to develop compelling value propositions for these customers.

“With the rapid pace of change over the last few weeks, businesses that are proactive and actively monitoring their landscape for opportunities will be better prepared than those waiting for things to go back to normal.”

Thomas says customer centricity is a crucial skill entrepreneurs will need if they want to navigate this challenging time well.  

“Customer needs evolve and entrepreneurs must be proactively scanning the market to ready themselves for shifts in demand, as even subtle changes can wreak havoc with cash flow.

“An entrepreneur that isn’t wed to industry norms or traditional modes of operating is well positioned to see these connections or missed opportunities.”

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