5 Ways to Stay Innovative in Your Business

Any seasoned entrepreneur who’s gone through years of building their business and surviving during a crisis (say, like a pandemic to upend what’s normal) knows that staying innovative is important if you want to keep your business alive. Innovation, according to Forbes, isn’t just coming out with a new product or method, it can also be changing business models or uncovering new ways to do things. 

So why is innovation important? Harvard Business School summarizes it neatly into three reasons: in a constantly evolving business landscape (thanks, Covid and supply-chain disruption), innovation allows your business to adapt, it fosters growth, and separates you from the competition. 

We at Common Room and several of our local makers have learned the need to pivot and innovate, especially during the last two years. While we remained rooted in each of our missions—whether it was to create a space for makers or create functional organizers at a lower price point—we knew we couldn’t stick to the same way of doing things. Here are the different ways we innovated.

1. Improve your product line.

When the lockdown happened, a lot of stores shuttered permanently. For Simoy ng Haraya, a line of personal and home scents, keeping their products moving was extra challenging. “They won’t buy online without smelling your product. Scent is very sensorial,” shares Simoy ng Haraya founder Lala de Leon in her Meet the Maker interview

During the pandemic, the challenge was how to make potential customers smell the different scents—or at least buy even without smelling it. While they got creative with the copy (going beyond describing the notes), they also launched small 5ml bottles of their scents. “[It was] with the intention of really making people buy, so that they can try it before committing to a bigger size.” It worked. 2020 ended up being a good year for Simoy ng Haraya. The following year, they were able to open a new HQ.

2. Reposition your existing products.

“You have to constantly evolve,” says Madz Sablada of Izzo Shop in our interview with her last year. While she thought of closing her business during the pandemic, she had so much stocks of her organizers, gadget cases and travel accessories that she knew she couldn’t just close it down. 

She also knew that her products from years ago may not necessarily sell anymore so she asked herself, what would customers need now? Because not a lot of people were traveling at the time, she repositioned her luggage organizers as clothes organizers for the closet. “Before you abandon it, think of other ways on how you can make it thrive in another space.” Some of Izzo Shop’s bags and accessories cleverly found their way to Aling Noona—a one-stop shop for Korean goods and K-pop merch that Madz started during the pandemic—to carry the K-goodies coming from Korea.

3. Implement a different process.

When Gouache started its handcrafted waxed canvas bags, they would only produce a design through a batch process or production. During the pandemic, to solve the problem of cash flow and be able to cater to individual orders, Louie Poco and Ann Enriquez, the couple behind Gouache, decided to implement a new way of doing things. 

With the technology they started using, customers could pre-order an item on their online shop, and Gouache would make it within seven days. “That required a scale up from management and the bag-making team,” explained Louie and Ann in their Common Room interview, here. “Your makers need to be very skilled, and thankfully ours are. They were able to accept the new direction.” Gouache found a new process to answer the problems they faced and adjust to what their market needed, providing individual orders and refocusing on small batch designs.

4. Create a space for your own inventory.

Before the pandemic happened, all the inventory of Common Room was in their stores. When the stores locked down, they lost access to all of their inventory. As Common Room’s main source of income was from their stores, Roma admits that they didn’t see the need to add an additional expense of a warehouse or studio at the time. 

In her “Small business struggles in lockdown” interview, they realized they needed to open a studio space to have inventory that wasn’t dependent on the stores. But this meant closing one store to fund it. They closed their first store in Katipunan and built their own studio space. “It’s one of the reasons we managed to stay afloat,” says Roma. Aside from the overhead of the studio being cheaper than the store space, the move allowed them to cater to online orders when the second lockdown forced stores to close again.

5. Make improvements to customer service.

According to HBS, innovation doesn’t always have to mean new business models or product breakthroughs, it can also be a simple upgrade in your customer service. For Elly Ang, the creator of Danger in Design, her biggest challenge during the pandemic was that she couldn’t send her enamel pins out internationally.  

When we caught up with her early this year for an interview, she shared that one of the things she did to pivot was to improve on customer service. She constantly updated her customers on their orders—if it had been shipped out by the local post office, if there was still no way to ship it, and if they wanted a full refund. She would also check in on them regularly if they had received their package already. While it was mostly a way for her to find out what was happening to her packages, the effort was appreciated by her customers. Elly, along with Common Room and its other makers, were able to innovate and make the necessary changes to survive through the pandemic and continue to grow their business.

—written by Mabel David-Pilar
Mabel has been a writer and editor for many publications including a ten fashion magazine and a book on the most endangered Philippine trees. She spends most of her time writing, illustrating, stalking Common Room’s online shop, and making ferments. Together with her sisters, she co-created startersisters.com to celebrate fermentation and eating more plants!