Paul Hargreaves: COVID-19 Update
I am putting my series on characteristics of leaders on hold again this week, as there is no other story other than CV-19. Although I will say that this crisis will grow character more than any situation than most of us have been through. Here at Cotswold Fayre we had our own horrible crisis in 2014 which I talk about in my book, Forces for Good, and that helped enormously to create the on-purpose company we have today. In addition, only last year we had another crisis during our move to a new warehouse meaning levels of chaos for more than two months. Both these occasions helped us develop resilience, and that resilience is shining through in these difficult weeks.
So far for us, they haven’t been difficult in terms of loss of revenue, the very opposite, in fact. Despite a significant percentage of our customer base closing; tourist attractions, department stores and garden centres, turnover is up and would be even higher if we had more stock in our warehouse. Some suppliers are struggling to keep up with demand but are working their hearts out. I must say I have felt ever so slightly guilty over the past few days when contacted by people in other sectors, whose businesses have dried up completely, to tell them that our sales are great! Our main challenge last week was moving most of the office staff out to work at home without some required technology, while also dealing with unprecedented volumes of orders.
No way am I being complacent though. The pinch may well come for us later. We have had some producers close down and this may grow, and I am sure sales will slow down this week – after all there is a limit to how much pasta people can eat and how much bread they can make! What has interested me is the polarisation that a crisis like this brings to the fore, and I have seen this in three different areas:
- Retailers – I mentioned previously some of the amazing stories of independent retailers, who have really stepped up into their purpose as a vital local food retailer. Some farm shops have extended their retail area into their unused café. Many have for the first time operated a box delivery service or click and collect and some have even given away free food to the vulnerable in their communities. These entrepreneurial retailers have been welcoming brand new customers into their shops who can’t buy what they want in the supermarkets. Their initiative will ensure many of these grateful people continue to be customers when this crisis is over. On the other hand, some food retailers who haven’t had to close have given up, put all this in the “too difficult” box and shut up shop.
- Employees – I was talking to a food producer last week, who said that this crisis had shown her who was truly committed to her company. Of course, there are a small percentage of the population who are genuinely sick but she said some have used the opportunity to take extended time out of the business. On the other hand, the CEO of a B Corp producer told me how amazingly his team had stepped up and he put that down to the culture they had created over the past few years. At Cotswold Fayre we have seen the same with no sickness at all.
- Producers – a few of these seem to have shut their doors very quickly the day after it was announced that the government would pay 80% of their staff wages. Again, many have no doubt made the decision with sensible reasons, but others have seen this as an opportunity to reduce their losses. On the other hand, many others have stepped up, offered to make us different products where there was a need and two have actually gone into hand sanitizer production.
There is huge resilience being shown here by many within the sector and I congratulate them whole-heartedly. They will be the ones that come through this stronger than before.