This business diversified its services for new client needs

Facing major disruption, this company implemented a diversification strategy to enter new markets.

For Liz Neumark’s catering and hospitality company, Great Performances, complexity is part of the job. 

Great Performances could be in a field with rain, no source of water and no source of power and still manage a large-scale corporate event while accommodating all sorts of dietary restrictions and needs. And it’s not a problem—it’s expected.

“It’s in our DNA that every day is different,” said Liz. “That’s why people hire Great Performances. Because we figure out how to get things done.” So when the company had to rapidly adjust in 2020 due to the pandemic, the team was ready to set an example of how to manage through the changes.

Committing to serve those in need

The company’s “bread and butter” business—high-end catering for events—all but disappeared as restrictions were placed on large gatherings. At the same time, New York City was grappling with the fact that there was going to be an enormous need for meal deliveries almost instantly.

The most urgent need was to provide meals for the 80,000 senior citizens who could no longer go to senior centers. How was the city going to get food to them?

“I said, ‘We can do it. We can produce meals, box them and deliver them to doorsteps.’ We’d never done anything like that before,” Liz said.

Great Performances had never gone door-to-door delivering meals, but it did have hundreds of waiters on staff who didn’t have work. With less than two weeks to ramp up, Liz and her team jumped into planning mode as the company was awarded a contract to get thousands of meals to seniors.

Overcoming the logistics challenge

Food for seniors is very different from what Great Performances had traditionally provided and sold for 40 years.

It took just under two weeks to restructure the kitchen so that people were able to work at a safe distance from one another. Great Performances took another 20,000 square feet of its warehouse kitchen and created assembly lines.

Another challenge was figuring out the delivery aspect. “We have a fleet of trucks that typically have anywhere from 200 to 2,000 meals that are all going to one place,” said Liz. 

But the new delivery model was just the opposite. Working closely with the IT team, Great Performances found a software company that helped manage logistics to be in touch with delivery people.

“We had to figure out this hub-and-spoke model, where we would go into a neighborhood with a central truck, and then have people pick up boxes and go door-to-door,” said Liz.

An example of business diversification during challenging times

It’s been critical for Great Performances to diversify its business and client set. This was true even before the pandemic. 

For example, the company has diversified by building up its workplace dining business over the past several years. And now, it’s working with the city and other organizations to serve food to those who need it most. These adjacent markets supplement the high-end catering business.

“The big takeaway is ‘Don’t have all your eggs in one basket,’” said Liz. “Think about different verticals. For us, it’s the city contracts and the civic and public service work. We’ll continue to grow that side of the business.”

Sticking to the mission

Feeding the community during hard times is part of Great Performances’ history. The company served food to first responders after 9/11, and it’s provided food to people through hurricanes and blackouts. 

“We love food. We love people. And we want to make an impact. So that’s how we make decisions,” Liz said. 

The company was founded as a waitress service for women in the arts. “The first real pillars of our culture were rooted in arts, diversity and service,” Liz said. But early on, Great Performances ensured gender diversity in the business.

Great Performances has also made a commitment to sourcing local food as well as supporting the communities in which employees live and work. Great Performances owns and operates an organic farm in upstate New York that helps serve the community, and it established The Sylvia Center—a nonprofit that teaches children and their families about healthy eating.

Finding strength from the community

The company’s response to the pandemic took an extraordinary amount of teamwork and personal resilience to find solutions and quickly implement them.

“It was an amazing moment of personal sacrifice for so many men and women who decided to show up and work. That continues to leave a huge impression on me,” said Liz. “Being responsive to our neighbors is just embedded in our fiber. And doing the impossible. We love doing the impossible.”

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