‘It was quite overwhelming’: how it feels to have your business thrive in a pandemic | Australian lifestyle

It’s no secret that on the work front, the Covid narrative has predominantly been a negative one, with two-thirds of Australian businesses reporting a hit to revenue in 2020 and underemployment hitting a historic high of 13.8%, impacting 1.8 million people.

Despite this, lockdowns have brought growth to certain sectors, with Australians spending big in areas such as beauty, hobbies and home furnishings. This increased desire for little luxuries is sometimes called the lipstick index. So what does it feel like to be an outlier in a downturn? We asked four business owners to share their experiences.

Edel Beattie, AKA The Happy Organiser, has been inundated with requests for home organisation help. Virtual consults have made it possible to reach more clients desperate to tidy the homes they’re spending more time in.

Edel Beattie from The Happy Organiser: ‘Virtual consults more than doubled during lockdown.’
Edel Beattie from The Happy Organiser: ‘Virtual consults more than doubled during lockdown.’

“I started my business during the first lockdown in 2020 as I could see there was a need for a service in this area, especially since more people were working from home and trying to juggle kids at the same time.

“Virtual consults more than doubled during lockdown. Bookings are mainly from those who are now working from home and want to make their spaces feel less cluttered and more organised.

“It feels odd and unfair [experiencing this boom], especially as I have close friends who have businesses that have been crushed by the lockdowns. I try to focus on being grateful and supporting others where I can.”

Peter and Jenny Guest’s boutique B&B Guestlands – an Italian village built on their Hills District property in Sydney – has been immensely popular among both commercial photographers and Instagram users who’ve had their overseas plans thwarted by the pandemic.

Peter and Jenny Guest’s boutique B&B Guestlands.
A slice of Italy in suburban Sydney.

“We [built this] place for friends and family to gather in. We didn’t realise that it was going to become so popular. We still see it as people popping in for a sleepover. But I think the novelty, tiny little hamlet atmosphere … offers a bit of escapism for people who can’t get away right now.

“It was quite overwhelming around September 2020 because everyone wanted to come and stay with us. Our booking calendar had been filling up all the way beyond March 2022, and all the people who have had to cancel in lockdown are getting in touch asking if they can book again for next year.

“The appeal is that it’s not too far to travel. People have [flown] in from interstate – Melbourne, Adelaide, Magnetic Island – because they couldn’t go overseas.

“It is very disheartening and challenging dealing with the stress and anguish of staff and clients who are having plans and their livelihoods impacted. I feel like I have a responsibility to create … hope.”

Pam Yip and Jenny Lee lost their jobs in marketing and optometry when Covid hit in 2020. So the pair started a home bubble-tea subscription service and have since made over $2m in sales, catering to a 20,000-strong customer base whose cravings couldn’t be satisfied by a visit to a store during lockdowns.

BBT Club portrait
Bubble Tea Club owners Pam Yip (left) and Jenny Lee (right). Photograph: Griffin Simm

“Launching our DIY bubble tea kits during the peak of Covid and Victoria’s stage four lockdown … opened up a gap in the market. We’re convenient, affordable and accessible – so this becomes a much more viable option for people during lockdown. It’s a treat.

“It’s also a fun activity to do. You can only go for so many walks. Creating bubble tea at home has not only been a great way to engage the family, but has also diversified people’s at-home beverage-making experience beyond coffee or tea.

“We’ve had many customers comment on our social media platforms how they’re so glad they discovered Bubble Tea Club and how it’s helped them.”

Dog trainer Lisa Hilleard started offering puppy training online via her business Polite Paws when Australians first went into lockdown in March 2020. She spent much of the latest lockdown working 12-to-15-hour days to meet demand for her classes.

Lisa teaching a Zoom puppy class
Lisa Hilleard teaching a Zoom puppy class.

“I have been a full-time trainer for 12 years but I started running live video puppy and manners courses for older dogs during both the 2020 and 2021 Sydney lockdowns.

“During Sydney lockdowns live video puppy class enrolments more than doubled. I was maxed out at 15 puppy courses a week with five to six puppies per course and could have filled more if I could clone myself. Now with the lockdown ending I am maintaining 11 courses a week.

“Profits were stable during the lockdowns, when most of my industry was completely out of work. Video puppy classes actually require extra admin time and expense … but less setup time and maintenance of the training facility, so it balances out. I have taken advantage of the extra demand for my classes by working extra hours to increase my income.

“My live video puppy classes will no doubt continue to be my most popular classes, even when I restart in-person. They’re cheaper … and if you are unwell or isolating at home you don’t miss any classes.

“I felt privileged that I was able to so quickly adapt my whole business to not only survive but thrive during a time when so many others were crushed by this pandemic.

“I have tried every week to spread that support to others by spending with local businesses. It taught me that if you work hard and are passionate about helping others, it will pay off in times of need when those grateful people have your back.”