Around the grounds How Sunshine Coast businesses innovated to survive during the COVID shutdown

The shutters came down, tables and chairs were stuffed into cafe corners and the streets fell silent. 

Like the rest of the nation, overnight Sunshine Coast businesses were slammed with the reality of Covid-closures, lost sales, fear and the great unknown. In the spirit which makes this place great, there was no lying down and giving up. Our business owners hustled, collaborated, innovated, and learned on the fly. Under never-experienced-before trading conditions, businesses grabbed hold of digital tools to, not only survive, but thrive. Here are their stories. 

Sunshine Coast Orthopaedic Group

What they do

Practice owners and Orthopaedic surgeons Dr Daevyd Rodda and Dr Frank Connon run this leading lower limb orthopaedic care practice, specialising in hip, knee, foot and ankle care. They provide high quality surgical and non-surgical solutions with world-class surgeons who help people get back to doing the things they love. 

 What happened when Covid-19 hit

The Commonwealth Government ceased all elective surgeries, which meant postponing all existing surgeries booked at the practice, leaving many patients in pain waiting for hip and knee replacement surgeries. 

 How they innovated

Within a week the team were delivering a new telehealth service, hosting online video consults with the doctors helping patients manage their condition during shutdown. 

 “We focussed on helping our patients manage their pain by delivering non-surgical pain relief management treatments such as PRP Therapy, Synvisc® and Cingal® Injections,” Dr Rodda said.

 The team also prepared an integrated digital marketing campaign to be ready for when elective surgeries would be available again using their website, Mailchimp, Facebook and other communications.  

“On the of day the announcement we were ready to communicate that elective surgeries could commence again, taking surgery bookings from our existing and new patients – a win-win for everyone,” Dr Rodda said. 


Factory Direct Shutters

What they do

Justin Ralph owns and operates this blinds, shutters and awnings company based in Maroochydore, servicing all of South East Queensland. A large part of their client base are seniors and retirees who were somewhat fearful initially during the shutdown of having sales representatives in their home to measure and quote. 

How they adapted

To address the changed landscape and a downturn in the economy, Justin reviewed industries that had retained their employees like health and professional services and targeted those industries and roles using targeted Facebook advertising with offers specific to the industry, for example 50% off for health workers.   

 The team quickly included messaging on the website and ran online advertising to show what measures had been put in place to provide a safe service. 

“We also provided video calls for virtual sales consults so that no one had to feel unsafe and social isolation rules could be followed,” Factory Direct Shutters owner, Justin Ralph said.  

Understanding buying habits

The business continued to focus its efforts on monitoring the changes in people’s buying habits in Australia and quickly adapted digital advertising and messaging to suit. 

“Currently we’re focussing on messaging around how we sell Australian made products produced by a family-owned, local business, and interest free opportunities for customers,” Justin said.    

Hampers To Go

What they do

Hampers to Go offer a premium range of hampers focussed on locally sourced, decadent foods and beverages. Business owner Libby Marker started the business after spending a great deal of time researching the ideal gift hamper for her husband’s business and not really finding what she was after.

The exceptional produce in the region became her inspiration to design perfect, desirable gifts for those who matter most. It also provided an opportunity to support Sunshine Coast producers and showcase local food and beverages places which attract visitors from all over the world to the region. The business operates online and has a retail store in Marcoola.

How they responded to Covid  

“First we created Stay at Home hampers which could be ordered online to tap into the shutdown scenario and contactless situation, which we promoted via our website, enews and social media channels” Libby said.

Sales of the Stay At Home hampers soared during March and April with corporates buying for their teams and families using the hampers as a way to stay connected and supportive of each other.  

Easter and Mother’s Day were some of the biggest days in the business’s history too, completely selling out of all hampers, tapping into a significant increase in online shopping and home deliveries.    

Sunshine Coast Grammar

 What they do

Established in 1997, Sunshine Coast Grammar School is an independent, co-ed based school for Prep aged children to year 12. They also have an Early Learning Centre on the campus.  The school’s focus is on providing education based on individual care and attention with high quality academic, cultural and sporting programs in a supportive learning environment.

What happened when Covid-19 hit

The school had planned Discovery Week, a week-long series of open days to showcase the school for parents and prospective students. Marketing and Communications Manager Megan Meineke and the team had just finished planning the major open day series, including significant digital marketing campaigns which had to be postponed just days before launch.

 How they innovated

“As we were unable to do face-to-face tours for prospective enrolments, we quickly created virtual tours of our learning areas and facilities as well as video content on our website for parents,” Megan said.

 “We also continued to stay connected with our existing parents and students via our online learning portal which was key during the remote learning phase. Clear and regular communication was vital and allowed us to adapt and respond to the changing environment.”

 With the easing of Covid restrictions, a Discovery Week series has been rescheduled for 10 to 14 August. However, rather than offering the typical group tours, the school will showcase the campus and programs to parents via private, personalised booked tours for each family. No small feat!

MJJ Accounting and Business Solutions

 MJJ is a team of expert Chartered Accountants based in Maroochydore. Led by experienced Director’s Melanie Jacobson and Renee Spears, they work with a range local businesses across health, professional services, retail, property and construction and more. They help business owners realise their goals through empowering them to run better businesses.       

 What was the impact of Covid-19 shutdowns?

“There was a lot of fear and uncertainty amongst the Sunshine Coast business community when shutdowns were announced,” MJJ Accounting Director, Melanie Jacobsen said.

“We reacted immediately to support our clients by initially providing tools for them to project where there business was at and what cashflow and HR issues they may be facing.  

“Once the government announced the various stimulus packages available for business, we began providing interpretation and advice on the various options for Job Keeper, Job Seeker and the range of support programs being announced daily.  

“This was delivered through a range of digital channels included our website, Mailchimp, Facebook, blog articles and of course many a phone call and video conference with our clients.”

 What does innovation look like for you?

“Our biggest innovation is the way we are helping our clients to innovate to explore new opportunities and do business a little differently to build a strong position in challenging times.  We’re really pushing our clients to use this time to become more efficient and try new ways of doing business.  Such as introducing new delivery options to their products and services, delivering ecommerce solutions to expand their market and looking at ways to streamline their business operations to improve cashflow.” Said Director Renee Spears.      

 In their own business MJJ have used the time to review their digital marketing lead generation approach including an update to their website and investing in search engine marketing to maintain their strong presence in the market. 

Alex Surf Club

What they do

This Club offers several significant social spaces for relaxed dining, takeaway coffee and eatery, bar and live music with a sea view that’s hard to top with profits supporting the Surf Life Savers equipment, training and other needs of that club. They also have venue spaces for hire.

How they innovated 

CEO of Alex Surf Club, Ashley Robinson and his team kept the kiosk open and introduced takeaway packages for food and beverages, including tap beers supplied in 2 litre growlers for members to order online. Rather than leaving their resources to stagnate, they also used their courtesy buses to deliver food and beverages locally.  

“We used our database to promote offers via email and Facebook to our membership which worked pretty effectively and kept us ticking along,” Ashley said.

Sunshine Coast Plants

What they do

Gardening fanatic and founder Anthony Lacon started Sunshine Coast Plants having noticed there was a gap in the market for home delivered, high quality plants.  His hub is based in Buderim and services the Sunshine Coast and South East Queensland regions with a newly built Shopify ecommerce website. 

What they did during shutdown

“We were in a unique advantage as our business was already contactless and providing door to door plant delivery,” Anthony said. 

The business took advantage of their online offering and promoted via Google Ads, paid Facebook ads and also direct-to-trade landscapers.

During the peak Covid shut down time, the home improvements sector experienced a huge surge and the business experienced significant surge in online sales and deliveries having been in the right place at the right time with a hassle free online delivery service and reasonable pricing.  

Mask Events

What they do

Mask Events started in 1999 with current owners Domenic and Rebekah Fusca taking over the business in 2014 and growing it to become the largest event management, experiences and styling company in the region devoted to living and breathing high quality, memorable events.

The big Covid crash

When Covid-19 shutdowns occurred, all of Mask Event’s bookings gut-wrenchingly cancelled and postponed their events overnight, leaving the team to hustle to remain operational. 

How they turned things around

As a major flip on their trademark face-to-face events, Mask quickly implemented a virtual event e solution from the US, which brings together all interactive technologies to run an event via online seamlessly. 

While restrictions lift, the team are currently delivering this offering as a solution for a range of businesses.  

The team also used this time to build a new ecommerce website and to develop a hiring equipment aspect to the business for delivery or pickup of event hire theming and equipment.  

“The scale back of real world events created space for us to photograph over 1000 event theming items and build and launch the new site,” Domenic said.   

“We’re also currently promoting a range of “DIY Cabin Fever Cures” event packages to host small parties at home as the restrictions lift.”

Smart Solutions Rehab Group

Regina Heffernan, Owner and Occupational Therapist employs over 40 staff in her multidisciplinary, individual rehabilitation NDIS service. As an NDIS service provider, the Group provides assessments, evidence based treatment plans, and clear treatment time frames to give people a plan that puts them back in control of their health. 

 How they navigated Covid closures

To support their major pivot in service delivery from face-to-face to virtual, Smart Solutions  created videos to show clients new safety procedures. The organisation also had to adapt fast to change all its business processes for home visits by implementing Telehealth solutions for the first time which they promoted via website, Facebook and email using their database to connect with the right stakeholders.     

During the shut-down restrictions the business also celebrated their 5th birthday.  

Regina said “We really wanted to bring the team together to say thank you for the last 5 years, though were challenged with event restrictions.  So we created a socially distanced drive-through style event where staff drove into our party zone and picked up a lunch box and birthday cake on their way to client sites.”  

F45 Caloundra

What they do

Alex and Penny are the owners of one of seven F45 fitness centres across the Sunshine Coast (each individually owned). The F45 ethos is focussed around delivering the world’s best workout.

“A huge benefit we have carried across with this transition during Covid has been the continuity of community and purpose,” Alex said.  

“For us it has always been about pushing hard at your own pace, but together.”

The impact of Covid 

Gyms were one of the first businesses to be closed to the public, so the team had to work fast to keep their community connected, looking after their health and fitness and keeping the business trading. 

We shifted our group training workouts from within a studio to completely online and after some initial hiccups, it’s now a streamlined experience for members,” Alex said. 

“All of our personal trainers also provide live online workouts on a platform that allows us to interact with our clients and still coach seven days a week.”

“We wanted people to be able to keep going with resistance and weights training too. The barrier for us was that all of the fitness equipment was sold out at stores, so we decided to introduce an Equipment Library, so our clients could ‘check out’ a piece of equipment each week from us and exchange it the following week. This has been fabulous.”

The business reduced regular membership rates for the online environment too and added additional services and discussions from allied professionals in the community, plus weekly challenges to keep it fun and competitive for members. Even a DJ for Saturday morning training sessions was brought on board!

Local innovators

Some pretty spectacular collaborations and inspired offerings have emerged in the region during the Covid shutdown time too.

Ohana Group launch produce box

The Ohana Group is an online collaboration of chefs, restaurants, growers and processors based in Noosa but supporting buyers and collaborating with people all over the Sunshine Coast. 

Ohana launched The Crate Collective, a Sunshine Coast based initiative that brings together a collection of premium products not normally available to the public unless they are dining out. 

The crate consists of gourmet products and recipes, and is a way to support local producers during these times. Ingredients featured in the crate include Mooloolaba Prawns, Fraser Island Spanner Crab and Green Valley Finger Limes. 

Virtual tours with a twist!

Josh Donohoe of Creative Tours and Events launched a weekly Meet the Maker at Home series to keep folks connected and enjoying local produce and products. 

Each experience delivers local produce to your door which is followed by an online session featuring some of best local brewers, farmers and chefs bringing a mix of live interactive online sessions including information and tips. 

Josh has also launched a new online craft beer trail and map featuring 18 local breweries on the Sunshine Coast to help promote the region’s craft beer scene.

Key takeaways from these local innovators:

  • Digital marketing efforts like online teaching, digital advertising and eCommerce are great ways to support and grow your business easily.
  • Keeping a customer experience and customer needs focus is essential to survival.
  • Understanding market demands can help businesses adapt during challenging times.
  • Collaborating with other professionals is a great way to build new, innovative income streams and support your existing customers.

Keep your creative business collaborations flowing, virtual communities growing and your digital marketing efforts happening. Innovation happens when people come together to collaborate in new and creative ways. 

If you are looking for additional support and resources, check out the Sunshine Coast Council’s Level Up Program website for further resources and ongoing training opportunities.