Re-imagining business in the year of Covid

It’s been quite a ride! And, although the ride is far from over, the close of 2020 is an appropriate time to review the twists and turns so far; to reflect on the challenges to our business and consider how we faced them.

I’ll start at the end. I’ll start by revealing, with some pride, that Goodness Gracious has reached the end of the year of Covid-19 in as strong a position as it’s ever been. Sure, our month to month turnover in a level 1 scenario is down by about 10 percent, a drop of which I attribute about half to changed work patterns and the other half to the absence of international students and tourists.

But, thanks to the steps we took — some forced by the coronavirus, some chosen — the business is far more efficient than it was at this time last year.

Thanks to operational changes, we have managed to significantly reduce the amount of people hours required to operate the format.

By eliminating practices which negatively affected our margins (as well as put our and our customers’ health at risk), we have increased those margins.

And we seriously expanded our online function, encouraging more online ordering of our traditional prepared products, and adding retail sales of products such as home bagel kits, sauces and spreads.

It’s worth going into some detail about the operational changes: especially the introduction of just one bill per table, the elimination of cash and the introduction of Paywave, and the end of physical coffee loyalty cards.

In the past, on a busy Saturday, two or three tables of four to six people might all arrive simultaneously at the cash register to split, and pay, their bills. Not only was the queue a nuisance for them, the whole procedure would occupy a significant portion of a staff member’s time.

If some, or all, were paying in cash, that occupied even more time — and at the day’s close, counting the cash, balancing the cash register and doing the banking was equally time-consuming.

Five minutes here and 10 minutes there all add up, perhaps to an hour or two per day. Multiply that by three cafes, and multiply again by seven days, and it should be apparent how much the act of eliminating such practices reduced weekly staffing requirements and therefore improved the bottom line.

The scrapping of physical coffee loyalty cards wasn’t directly about staffing. We kept the loyalty card function but applied it to online orders only, not just because of the health risks in handling the physical cards but also as an incentive for customers to make a similar switch to online.

Mostly as a result of the operational changes, the staffing roster over the three Goodness Gracious cafes has been reduced by about a third. I’m pleased to report that this has been achieved through natural attrition, so I haven’t had to make any tough calls.

However, fewer staff mean our expectations of any new staff are necessarily higher than in the past. If a store has four staff (kitchen and front of house), it’s fine if one of the four is learning on the job. If there are just three staff, or two and a half, it’s harder to “carry” one.

Of course there has been occasional customer resistance to our operational changes, and the odd, sceptical “Oh, because of the plan demic!” response to the cash ban. But I doubt we’ve lost any regulars. With the health benefits of the changes, especially during the worst of the pandemic in New Zealand, they were an easier “sell” than may otherwise have been the case.

At year’s end, our statistics demonstrate that customers have made a technological leap during the crisis. The initial resistance to using app based contact tracing slowly dissipated, and at the same time more and more people were happy to make purchases online. Pre-Covid, our daily online ordering ranged from 2 to 10 percent of turnover. Now in level 1 it ranges from 8 to 15 percent with some days being up 30 percent at individual stores.

I look back on 2020 with a degree of personal satisfaction. I guess I like a challenge, and I feel fulfilled by coming up with — and implementing — a strategy to overcome it. I appreciated the willingness of key suppliers to work together to find solutions, especially our coffee roaster, our bagel suppliers and On The Go, who developed and finessed our online functions. And, of course, I valued the support and loyalty of key staff.

I’m also acutely aware I’ve been fortunate. Some hospitality businesses who have really struggled, and in some cases failed, were simply the victims of their location, of the change in work and life patterns.

There may have been others who were too slow to recognise where hospitality was headed, and either reluctant or unable to adapt their businesses to service the new environment.

In the year of Covid-19, we at Goodness Gracious have effectively re-imagined our business. But we know that, just as the coronavirus isn’t over, nor is our challenge. In 2021, we will be ready to re-imagine some more!

Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com.

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