Covid-19 in our own words: Kenny Blair

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By Kenny Blair – Buzzworks MD
Reflecting on the unique circumstances that we have all found ourselves over the last few weeks, I find that I am in a good place.
Despite the fact that our business has no income and the future of the hospitality industry across both the UK and the globe is uncertain, I know with absolute certainty that Buzzworks has done everything it can for everyone involved in our family business.
As a leader through a crisis, you must look to yourself to provide a level of CALM – compassion, clear action on priorities, a level and clear head and be mindful of the consequences for everyone. It is not always easy, however, it is completely necessary.
Throughout my career, building our business alongside my brother and sister, I have drawn inspiration from Danny Meyer – the New York restaurateur and CEO of Union Square Hospitality.
His vision for ‘Enlightened Hospitality’ – where it is a virtuous cycle of putting your people before your guests, your suppliers, your community and your investors or owners – has really resonated with me.
I was lucky enough to be invited on a learning tour, as part of a HIT scholarship, to visit his business last year and immerse myself in his philosophy. It was both educational and inspirational, and throughout this crisis I have tried to implement what I learned by replicating the loyalty shown to us by our team.
We are fortunate that the business is in a good position to do the right thing for our stakeholders and throughout the crisis we have been able to retain over 500 of our team across the business.
We’ve made sure that they have continued to be paid weekly, whilst communicating with everyone daily and supporting all of our team in a variety of different ways.
Outwith our team, we will continue to make payments to our suppliers, many of whom have been truly outstanding in their support and understanding throughout this crisis.
I feel blessed that we have also been able to support the community during these difficult times, from our chefs helping local charity Centrestage cook meals for vulnerable people in east Ayrshire, to our staff supporting the NHS both voluntary and on the front line.
We have also made a modest donation to our chosen charity, Hospitality Action, which helps those within the hospitality industry, including our own team, to help with mental, physical and financial wellbeing.
Whilst I’m sure both Buzzworks and the hospitality industry faces turbulent times over the coming months, I am confident that we will be able to provide a great business for our customers to return to, within a safe and welcoming environment.
Unfortunately hospitality as an industry has a disproportionate reliance on people, allied to high property costs, which make it immensely vulnerable to a complete closure like we are experiencing now. Combined, it looks bleak for many and it is truly sad that we will potentially lose some well-known names from both the culinary and bar scene.
Most businesses that have been around for as long as we have each will each have their own war stories to tell and we are no different. We all know the principle that when times are tough, you really get better and stronger at what you do – there is often no other option.
It is from these experiences that we know as a business, we have the ability and capacity to ride this storm, although no one is underestimating how tough it will be. Working as a family, through both good and bad times, we know that we will get our backs to the wall and focus our energy on pulling through just like we have done many times before in our career.
In this unprecedented time, we’ve formulated a list of actions that’s helped us through the crisis so far and will hopefully help us achieve our goal in this unprecedented situation, that a year from now we will look back on how our business has behaved and be proud that we did the right thing for everyone involved.
1. Communicate clearly and regularly with your team – all of them. Even if it is just through a WhatsApp group
2. Speak to your suppliers, don’t just ignore them – they will almost universally understand. Those that don’t make any concessions will soon be ex-suppliers when all this is over
3. Forensically examine every penny that leaves your bank account. Question every expense, and ask for help from every supplier
4. Create a plan for coming out of the crisis – make a best guess at what it will look like for your business. It might not be 100 per cent correct, but it will give both you and your team something to focus on
5. Plan your cashflow out for the next 12 months based on your plan. If you can’t do this in-house then contact your accountant
6. Keep a dialogue going with your bank – let them know everything you are doing to minimise the effect of the crisis on your business
7. Create a crisis team, even if it’s just two or three people – split up the jobs and talk daily
8. Share the problem with someone else within the licenced trade – we are all in this together. On this occasion, the virus is the competition
9. Look after yourself – take exercise and share the load with someone – your business needs you in good shape to lead it through this crisis
10. Don’t believe everything you read in the news.

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