There is a sense, albeit extremely tentative, some operators can see the end of the lock-down road and are beginning to plan for it. Reopening could be six weeks away very optimistically, ten weeks away optimistically and 14 weeks away perhaps realistically but no one really knows. It does feel in sight though for the first time since mid-March. However, the widespread view of the market is it is unlikely to recover to previously seen levels – if at all – until mid-2021.
I sense some operators this week have had, at last, some time to catch their breath and to think in depth about the future and strategy of their business for the first time since this crisis began.
The hit has been continuous and relentless – developing new health and safety processes to keep teams protected, redundancy planning, the move from redundancy to furloughing, keeping some sites open for delivery and takeaway, closing all sites, negotiating quarterly rent and service charge deferment, tronc inclusion/exclusion, and navigating loan availability. Constant change has become a way of life and will be for some time to come.
It is quite incredible how many operators have been supporting their communities, and the NHS, in the form of free food and drink. This takes an enormous amount of effort, time and determination. Their overwhelming kindness has been amazing.
I have read numerous papers and reports on the subject of change and strategic responses to the need for future change. I have listened to a lot of podcasts, watched a variety of TED talks/videos and spoken to many operators to understand some of the key emerging themes around rapid change, and the imperative to plan in a time of crisis. Some common strands that have emerged in terms of planning for the future have been:
– Understanding what this means for a brand post coronavirus – strategy, positioning, offer and communications.
– Trying to appreciate the future potential behaviour of current and new customers.
– Analysing competitors – exploring where a brand might fill a void and/or make the most of opportunities.
– Assessing potential number and location of sites and developing options for reopening.
– Considering all potential funding and finance options including administration and company voluntary arrangements.
– Removing as much overhead as possible now – office, marketing, call centres and people.
– Driving digital and online momentum and change – hard and fast and at minimum cost.
– Communicating consistently and comprehensively with teams and customers.
– Seeking potential partners to share thinking, costs, people and best practice.
– Significantly upping the pace and scale of innovation, radical solutions and “out of the box” thinking (I hate that phrase).
The situation is rapidly changing as are the priorities of operators – they have moved fast. Some of these actions will become features of future business life:
– Decisions are being made infinitely quicker than pre-coronavirus.
– Liquidity has always been essential – this crisis has been an eye-opener for some.
– Teams have worked together brilliantly for one common purpose – no time for department squabbles.
– Organisations have had to become incredibly agile and will need to stay agile – no complacency.
– Individuals will have to become more agile, be prepared to multi-task and to reskill/learn new skills.
– Disruption has become a way of life. There is no norm to fall back on. Scenario planning has been vital.
– The industry, always good at working together, has naturally shared learnings.
– Kindness and “thinking of others before yourself” has become a natural way to behave for so many.
– The sense of community has become stronger – shared stories have become the stuff of legends.
– Working from home has worked. Trust has been key. This will become a new norm for many.
– De-risking the future is on many board agendas.
I could go on. There’s so much to listen to, so much to learn and so much to change. No words can describe how awful the impact has been on society – and on our own sector. Operators are learning as they go and demonstrating true kindness and generosity of spirit as they do. Amazing doesn’t begin to describe them.