Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 27 May 2020

From virtual wedding shopping to homeopathy: How non-essential businesses are getting creative

Businesses that have had to shut their doors are getting creative with their offerings

Asma Hilal Lootah is the founder of the Hundred Wellness Centre in Jumeirah.
Asma Hilal Lootah is the founder of the Hundred Wellness Centre in Jumeirah.

Times are becoming increasingly tough for those deemed non-­essential businesses. For many, it has meant an almost or complete redefining of business models, as activities conducted almost exclusively in person must now take place online.

Cafes and restaurants are having to focus on delivery instead of dining in, including many high-end restaurants that had never offered the former option before. Even weekend brunches have gone virtual, as have quiz nights, once held at packed hangouts such as Publique and McGettigan’s.

Now is the perfect time to begin laying the foundations for moving our work online and exploring virtual methods of therapy

Asma Lootah, The Hundred Wellness Centre founder

Films are being released straight to digital platforms, while libraries are launching online catalogues. And for many, it could mean permanent virtual offerings, even after the pandemic has passed us by.

Many bridal businesses in the UAE have risen to the social-distancing challenge, with virtual appointments to meet would-be brides. House of Moirai Bridal is offering clients a free online consultation over Zoom, where they can discuss having a dress custom-­made for their big day, or check out the shop’s ready-to-wear collections.

Ginger & Poppy boutique has also adapted to virtual sessions to show brides their creations. Owner May Martin even tries on the dresses for some to discuss sizes and customisation options. Ensembles are then sent to clients’ homes to be tried on for size.

The curated racks at Ginger + Poppy. Courtesy Ginger + Poppy
The curated racks at Ginger + Poppy are now being shown off online. Courtesy Ginger + Poppy

In the art world, too, virtual collections have become an accepted concept. Alserkal Avenue has launched a platform with virtual tours of its contemporary art galleries. On the website, visitors can take a 360-degree walk through the current exhibitions at the galleries and click on tags to read artwork details. They are also directed to the Artsy website, where collectors can purchase pieces online.

“This historic moment posits us with an opportunity to rethink our own situation, and to give back,” Vilma Jurkute, director of Alserkal, tells The National. “Now more than ever, we will need to support and encourage each other to find the collective strength to come through these challenging times together, something that we have witnessed already.”

Vilma Jurkute, Director of Alserkal Avenue 2016. Photo Courtsey of Alserkal Avenue. Recieved October 23, 2016. *** Local Caption *** Vilma Jurkute, Director of Alserkal Avenue 2016_2.jpg
Vilma Jurkute, Director of Alserkal Avenue.

Dubai art and design organisation Tashkeel has also brought together artists and designers for a weekly online workshop, in which they will discuss techniques and practices during self-isolation. Entitled Taskheel Talks, it will be broadcast on the organisation’s social media channels.

The wellness sector, too, has become creative. While spas and clinics do not have the luxury of offering their skills through an electronic device, other aspects of the industry have begun to make the transition to online.

Meditation courses are being offered virtually, as well as fitness classes and well-being workshops. The Hundred Wellness Centre in Jumeirah has gone as far as offering psychology, psychotherapy and homoeopathic treatment online.

One-on-one sessions with the centre’s specialists are designed to provide clients with the “tools to structure their daily lives and achieve balance in the face of adversity”.

The centre’s founder, Asma Lootah, believes the Covid-19 crisis has created a “unique opportunity that will strengthen our offerings and help us in the future”.

“Now is the perfect time to begin laying the foundations for moving our work online and exploring virtual methods of therapy,” she says. “Providing sessions online will be so beneficial to our patients, especially when it comes to mental health or treatment plans that we would like our clients to continue at home.”

In the next few weeks, the centre will trial different offerings and adjust online services to see what can be retained as permanent once restrictions are lifted.

“This is an uncertain time for the whole industry, and I really do hope that the pandemic is resolved quickly in order to reduce the risk for wellness and spa organisations in the region. I believe we have two choices: we can either see ourselves as the victims of circumstance, or we can decide to become the solution.”

Matt Trenchard is the co-founder of North Point Academy.
Matt Trenchard is the co-founder of North Point Academy.

But an easy pivot to digital operations has not been possible for everyone. North Point Academy, a professional coaching company with offices in the UK and the UAE, has introduced free weekly virtual group coaching for those affected by the coronavirus. It runs a mix of face-to-face workshops and online sessions, which have all been put on hold indefinitely.

The company’s co-founder, Matt Trenchard, says this has “effectively turned off the tap of our revenue”, which has led his organisation to offer free online courses to help other businesses in the same position. He has been quick to recognise the “silver lining” in the ongoing crisis and accelerated his online services to expand the company’s geographic reach.

The price of services will come down. This will lead to the need for greater levels of efficiency and scale. Companies that cannot make the needed shifts will suffer

Matt Trenchard, North Point Academy founder

“Due to ease of access, reduced costs and increased competition, the price of services will come down,” Trenchard says. “This will lead to the need for greater levels of efficiency and scale. Companies that cannot make the needed shifts will suffer.”

But while NPA offers expert advice to other businesses, it is also having to look at its own operations. This has meant major adjustments for the company. “Until now, we have predominantly focused on the in-person experience. We are now needing to repurpose our work for interactions where we engage together with others through the mediums of screens and headphones,” Trenchard says.

“This situation has caused us to give greater focus to bringing our work into the virtual space.”

Updated: April 22, 2020 02:09 PM

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