FUSIAN Adds Value During COVID-19 By Providing Customers With Access to More Items
FUSIAN has successfully evolved and met its guests’ needs during the coronavirus pandemic.
When unexpected events blindside a business, it helps if the owners can quickly think on their feet and find opportunities to provide customers with more value. FUSIAN says this ability has allowed the company to successfully evolve and meet guests’ needs during the coronavirus pandemic.
Co-founder Stephan Harman and his friends Josh and Zach Weprin (who are brothers) started the Ohio-based company in 2010 with the idea of bringing a fast-casual concept to Cincinnati’s downtown central business district with customized sushi rolls. “It worked well,” he recalls, noting that FUSIAN has grown to operate 10 locations in its home state.
Harman credits FUSIAN’s success to its young team, which had little experience in the restaurant industry. This proved to be an advantage, because instead of having the perspectives of seasoned veterans, he and his partners were able to bring a fresh set of eyes to explore new opportunities. “That ultimately allowed us to make decisions that we felt were best for our team and best for our customers,” he says.
Keeping Wheels Moving
FUSIAN evolved its business this past March when Ohio Governor Mike DeWine implemented a stay-at-home order due to COVID-19. “Over the course of a couple days, the grocery stores across the country were overwhelmed,” Harman recalls.
Some stores, he explains, found themselves short on pantry and produce items, including eggs, cheese, bananas, oranges and avocados, as well as hand sanitizer. However, FUSIAN had those items in its restaurants.
“We saw an opportunity for our customers to get food without leaving their homes,” Harman says, explaining that the company began providing customers with same-day delivery service two days after DeWine’s order went into effect. “We took the approach throughout the pandemic that we wanted to keep meals moving, and give our guests access to wholesome + fresh food.”
FUSIAN was well-prepared to serve clients with these items because its local vendors were fully stocked in anticipation of strong business during March Madness and St. Patrick’s Day. “It has been said that, pre-COVID-19, 51 percent of the food spend occurred in restaurants,” Harman notes. “Grocery stores can’t feed a population by themselves.”
The company also learned that the supply chains for grocery stores and restaurants were separate and very different, which it could use to its advantage. For example, in normal times, “We relied on our local produce vendors as a second stream approach to get food continuing to move through the system,” he says. “Food not purchased, or consumed, would simply go to waste.”
But getting them to adapt to a new delivery schedules was a challenge, Harman admits. “We had to work with our producers + purveyors in new ways to stock our restaurants,” he recalls. “Our restaurants are now operating on a completely different model, and that’s something that happened (nearly) overnight.”
FUSIAN also had to ensure the safety of its customers with the addition of with tamper-proof labels and free delivery. “We had to make sure we were creating value for the customers in many more ways than simply serving a smile and delicious food,” Harman recalls.
Since then, FUSIAN has earned a positive reaction to its grocery service. Today, “We continue to serve people their favorite foods while keeping them safe at home,” he says.
FUSIAN also has not let its restaurant service fall by the wayside. It continues to offer take-home stir-fry meals, sushi and Asian-inspired bowls, and a “Roll-it Yourself” sushi kit. “We give all the ingredients for people to roll their own sushi,” Harman describes. “It’s a fun way to experience a sushi night at home.”
Belief in the Brand
According to Harman, operating during the COVID-19 crisis has been “extremely galvanizing” for FUSIAN’s entire team. The company has routinely checked in with its associates to make sure they are healthy and feel safe as they work.
The company’s success during this time also has given it more confidence and a renewed sense of teamwork. “We believe in our products, we believe in our people, we believe in our brand and we want to share that with the community as much as possible,” he says.
The next steps, Harman says, will be for FUSIAN to follow DeWine’s strategy for the safe reopening of Ohio.
But when it does, the company plans to continue offering its new service, with a more curated list of local items.
“Our plan will be to work with local purveyors, and we can craft grocery items around different markets,” he says. “The reality is that by now, grocery stores are getting caught up from the initial surge, but I think we have an opportunity to create something that’s a little more curated while … adding value.”