It's time for innovation...
Tim Ridley, founder of United Baristas and #BaristaCare, talks about the impact of the coronavirus epidemic on businesses and things to consider for the future sustainability of their operations
To me, the most important thing for businesses to consider about reopening is their ability to create customer trust. Customers have to see that businesses have put in place all the measures to be able to maintain social distancing. And the big unknown is still, will people want to go out in sufficient numbers to drink coffee to make it a viable proposition? Your business’s income has to cover so many costs that you need to be confident there is the footfall in the first place to do that – there’s still so much uncertainty. I really think we are looking at months not weeks before we see things picking up to pre-lockdown levels.
I think to be in business now you need a completely different skillset – being able to manage conflicting pieces of information, manage uncertainty, create a new strategy, be able to focus on what’s important and what’s not. I’m encouraging proprietors that I’m speaking to to plan for the medium to long term. Prudency at this time is so important – you have a chance to step back and consider what is working for your business and what isn’t. I’ve had people just wanting to sell up, as they can’t see a way out, but there are lots of things you can consider to reduce costs and operate in a climate that still requires social distancing. Running your own business can be exhausting – you rarely have time to take a step back and consider how are you going to trade for the next 6 or 12 months – so why not use this time to think about your priorities?
I’ve been concerned for a long time about the discounts that shops give to customers using reusable cups – they’re basically giving away their profit margin on every cup of coffee. So it’s a discount on top of all the other discounts that they’re just giving away every day. With a return to opening under current conditions this is a golden opportunity for businesses – reusable cups are just not going to be part of takeaway life for at least the next few months, so you can legitimately get rid of the discount. That should free up tens of thousands of pounds for businesses over the course of a year – money that they are really going to need to get up and running again.
Another opportunity is reducing the customer interface – walking into a coffee shop, giving your order which is then put through the till system. Is that an efficient way to work still? Are there things that can be looked at to reduce that interaction using digital ordering? If we are trying to reduce the number of people in a shop, reducing the amount of contact between people, then these are all areas that are ripe for exploring. They have been borne out of necessity but also make good business sense.
I started #BaristaCare because some companies really didn’t deal with the whole lockdown very well. Some people were just made redundant while others were furloughed with no information, so they didn’t know when they’d get money, how they’d get money. I realised that we needed to communicate with these people, because if we don’t look after them they’re not going to want to come back to work. The concern is what will the industry look like when this is all finally over? So many people have left our big cities, returning home while furloughed. Now they’ve had a chance to consider what life is like away from London or from one of the other big cities, not paying huge rents, not having long commutes to work in overcrowded buses and tubes, so time will tell. That’s what conceptualised the need for #BaristaCare – we knew we couldn’t do everything, but we knew we could do some things to keep people feeling connected, like provide information. We’re good at distilling that information for people. For those panicking that they needed to sell their businesses as they couldn’t pay their rent, it was just about being able to give them the right information when they needed it. It was about providing a platform for people to defer to that brought all this information together. As part of our programme we produced care packs for those in need in the industry. We have shipped 300 care packs so far and will do another 100 next week. Through the #BaristaCare site we’re also trying to encourage people to be a little bit healthy, do yoga, do some exercise – I believe that through all this we still need to be kind to ourselves and each other.
I’m good at strategies and practical solutions. I will be doing more things over the coming weeks, which I will share with the coffee community as we go along – I think we need to be able to come together and share information, make sure we are communicating it effectively and are all saying the same thing. I think that will be the key to managing the return for independent businesses who can easily feel isolated when they are really part of such a strong community.