Surviving The Storm
If there is one thing that is guaranteed in our industry…
You will face hard times.
A global pandemic is not the only threat to our existence. While there is no silver bullet to surviving these storms, there are a handful of things that can stack the deck in your favor.
Educate yourself. Learn from the leaders in our industry.
I attended the International Pizza Expo for three years prior to opening Wholly Stromboli and one of the most resounding messages that has been key to our survival was the idea that you should have at least six months of operating capital in reserve when the storm comes. You owe this to yourself and your team. Knowing that you have built a financially sound business that can withstand the turbulent times goes a long way toward making sure that your team will stay with you when the going gets tough. If they know you are well funded and have the operating capital to persevere, they will worry less and focus on taking care of the business and your guests.
Often times operators run their businesses from payroll to payroll, praying there won’t be any unplanned expenses that send their bank account into a tailspin. We decided to put our cash sales directly into savings. It’s a small percentage of daily sales and you’ll have a nice cushion when you have to close your doors unexpectedly or your walk-in takes a crap.
Community support. If your community isn’t afraid to lose you, you’re not doing it right!
I’m not just talking about being the coolest spot in town, I mean really integrating yourself into your community. Seek opportunities to give back and don’t be a sponge only taking and never giving. A sponge can only absorb so much before you have to ring it out. So, give back regularly and from the heart. It will come back to you tenfold. People will remember that you gave back even when things were tough for you and your business. Think of it like this: if you had a good friend who was going through rough times you would do what you could to help them; and if they were a pillar in the community, people would rally around them to help.
Avoid gimmicks! Be creative and think outside the box, but stay true to your brand. Don’t do what everyone else is doing just to try something. Think about what will resonate with your guests and best represent your brand, mission and values.
There are many ways to run a restaurant. Just because something works for the guy down the street does not guarantee it will work for you and you run the risk of being just one of many doing the same thing. I often say “do what the other guys aren’t doing and do it well!’
Take care of yourself. You are key in this equation. You need to be strong mentally, and physically fit for the challenge. You can better face the challenges that lie ahead if you are not running yourself ragged, taking time to rest and properly nourishing your body and mind.
We live a high stress life on a good day. When the going gets tough you will need to be at your best! Your team needs a strong leader. The demands on your mind and body are the greatest in these times. If you show up tired, whiny and dragging then your team will follow suit. You must be the guiding light in times when there may not seem to be one at all. The time to get right with your body and mind is not when the poop hits the fan, but rather now. So meditate, take time for you, hit the gym or walk the dog.
Who’s steering? Someone must be at the helm! If you and your leadership team are rowing the boat, then who the hell is navigating? During the pandemic many corporate chains laid off their teams when the shutdowns began, leaving only salaried managers to answer phones, run carryout orders and cook.
Wholly Stromboli took a different approach. We did not lay off any of our team members and our managers stayed in place to help navigate the uncharted territory. With so many unknowns we had to be ready to change course at a moment’s notice.
Communication is key! Like it or not social media can be one of the most efficient ways to share your message. Not only were we able to keep our followers updated about the ever-changing status of our business, it endeared us to so many people that hadn’t ever been to Wholly Stromboli before. This brought new guests through the door at an unprecedented rate. Tell your story, tell people why things are changing and how it affects you and your team. If your guests understand why you had to 86 their favorite dish it may make the pill less bitter to swallow.
Last and most importantly, know thy numbers! This pandemic was an opportunity to re-evaluate our businesses from a financial perspective. This was a time to cut the fat! Huge menus, and dishes that don’t sell no longer have a place in our restaurants. Inefficient practices need to go! Lean and mean is the name of the game. Keeping your vendors accountable is also vital; unapproved substitutions, price hikes and outstanding credits are problematic and wreak havoc on your operations and finances.
In reality, these practices are just part of running a successful organization. Putting solid operational, marketing and financial practices in place every day will help ensure that our restaurants can survive the storm WHEN it comes.
Melissa Rickman is co-founder of Wholly Stromboli in Fort Lupton, Colorado, and member of the World Pizza Champions.