Opinion: When disaster struck eastern Australia, some companies saw the advantage.

“The way to make money is to buy when blood is running in the streets,” sounds like a callous quote by the richest man ever to have lived but John Rockefeller had a gentler version. He was also reported to have said, “I always tried to turn every disaster into an opportunity”.

The major news story was the flooding across most of Eastern Australia – crops destroyed, businesses ruined, homes isolated.

It is quite easy for a business that has been impacted by the floods to become caught up in the whole ‘woe is me’ scenario. It also seems like a convenient excuse to cover up other reasons for poor trading.

What I have been most impressed with is the number of businesses that have taken Rockefeller’s words to heart and tried to turn a bad situation into increased profits.

In many situations it is really easy to identify a problem. I have water in my shop – that is a problem. Access to my shop is closed off – that is a problem. We are being embarrassed by a bunch of Poms in our national game – that is a major problem.

Identifying a solution is a much harder task. With an entrepreneurial spirit and some creative thinking, I believe you can turn almost any situation into a positive one. We can’t change the direction of the wind but we can always adjust our sails.

The real entrepreneurs try to get past the emotion of the flood event as quickly as possible and move into a way to take advantage.

I recently saw a full page ad that was run by an insurance company the day after some flash-flooding in Singapore. The picture showed a number of cars half-covered in water with the headline, “You can be sure of one thing with us – someone will pay for this”. This was timely and straight to the point – and you can guarantee that every business without flood insurance (which is most) will be on the phone to this insurance company to make sure they are covered next time.

Progressive real-estate businesses were contacting businesses in areas where floods were threatening, to offer short-term leases on vacant premises in other business areas. The businesses who thought they might have to close down appreciated the calls and the owners of the vacant premises valued some rental income.

Some agents included removalists in the deals who could move stock quickly. Again the business owners saw this as a great value-add rather than seeing someone take advantage of their predicament.

I spoke with one toy shop owner who typically would do 35 percent of his annual trade in December. The floods completely isolated his business. His solution was to move into vacant premises in another part of the city and once the flood waters went down he continued to trade from both premises.

He then ran a series of radio ads with terrible puns along the lines of “our prices won’t dampen your Christmas spirit” and “our new premises are overflowing with toys” and “join up with the customers flooding in to our new location”. You get the idea.

Rather than wallow in misery and bemoan the unfortunate situation, Aussies love to joke about the tragedy and applaud those who can keep a positive spirit.

I have a mobile phone shop that trades from a shopping mall that had to close down for safety reasons. We quickly relocated computers and minimal stock and then sent out a mass SMS and email to inform clients of the new location plus inform them of our Christmas specials.

It was more effective than any traditional marketing campaign we would have run at Christmas as it focused on the flood first. People sent back text messages to thank us for the update.

At a time when businesses are feeling extreme pain, clever engineers and builders could offer to build devices to prevent floods entering buildings. I spoke to one sporting goods retailer who said that if he could have a device built behind his shop to prevent water entering his storage basement, he would commission it tomorrow. You can guarantee in three months his pain will be forgotten and he would be not as keen to spend the dollars.

I could see IT firms offering a free flood check of computers, cabling and associated equipment to all of the businesses that were impacted by floods. A personal call to every business offering to help by giving a free inspection of IT equipment would leave a lasting impression in their minds. That sort of goodwill and publicity is impossible to gain through advertising alone.

Tell me your best marketing at md@smallbusinessrules.com

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