October 29, 2020

Out of the frying pan and into a new business idea

OPINION: They did a bloody good line in propaganda in World War II, the Brits.

Keep Calm and Carry On – while never quite making it off the printing press during the conflict – has fuelled a million memes seven decades later. Loose lips, we all know, sink ships. And who hasn’t had “Dig for Victory” in the back of their mind as they wander the garden centre looking for a couple of pots of strawberries and a swan plant?

The one I keep coming back to, though, and the one that might be a good starting point for businesses looking for a way to do well through Covid-19 is a little less-known.

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It features on a poster of a lifelike ragdoll doing some sewing. (Her name, proving that there has never been a war too grim to keep copywriters away from their puns, is “Mrs Sew and Sew.”) Her message for patriotic Britons: Make Do and Mend.

I was thinking of Mrs Sew and Sew the other day when my breakfast eggs clung to my frypan in a sticky mess, and when I tried to spatula them out just spilled yolk everywhere, resulting in even more sticky mess.

On closer inspection, my frypan’s once non-stick surface was munted.

I know now what causes that (read on to find out how I learned!). Using metal utensils is just the start of it. Cooking at too high a temperature and heating the pan with no oil or food in it are definite no-nos. Dousing your hot pan with cold water (who doesn’t love that glorious steaming sizzle?) is another sure-fire way to take the non out of non-stick.

My first instinct, as an enthusiastic buyer and replacer of every sort of household thing, was to bin the manky pan and head out for a replacement.

Mrs Sew and Sew encouraged Britons not to buy new when they could reuse.

Stuff

Mrs Sew and Sew encouraged Britons not to buy new when they could reuse.

But something, possibly something lockdown-related, made me stop. The pan, when I looked closely at it, wasn’t a cheap one. My abuse (and, to be fair, that of my teenaged sons) had munted a pretty expensive piece of cookware.

I wondered if it could be fixed?

It turns out that it could. A bit of Googling and a phone call and I was standing in the modest reception of a cookware resurfacing place on the North Shore. Absolutely!, they said. They’d resurface my pan for $35 and return it to me better than new.

Now $35 is about what you’d pay for an entirely new pan at Briscoes or The Warehouse, and it’s arguable that a slice of that would go to keeping some kid in a checkout job while my old pan languished in a landfill.

But this pan cost close to $200 new. It was heavy, had a nice shape and deserved a second chance. So I handed it over, left my name on a little piece of paper and headed home.

A week later, my pan was ready. The woman at the resurfacing place proudly handed it over as her granddaughter played under the desk and her husband ate lunch in one of the reception chairs. She also took the time to teach me how not to ruin the new non-stick surface (scroll back up for her pointers if you missed them).

The resurfacing cost about the same as a new, low quality pan. But every dollar went to a local business. I felt good about it when I collected my pan, and even better about it when I cooked my eggs the next morning. Briscoes even got a slice of the action too, when I invested $3 in a plastic spatula.

If Covid-19 is this generation’s World War II, then Make Do and Mend is a slogan that’s right for these times.

Businesses that can help people refurbish, renew, repair and extend the lives of appliances, utensils, furniture, clothes, bikes and whatever else people have lying around are in a great position to succeed.

It saves money for the consumer, it keeps junk from landfills, it reduces imports and provides work for local businesses. Make Do and Mend didn’t help Britain win World War II on its own, but it could be a great way for New Zealand businesses to win customers in and after Covid-19.

Vaughn Davis is an Auckland advertising agency owner and author of Covid Schmovid – 19 Ways to Make Your Small Business Boom.

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