There is not a single industry in the United States that hasn’t been affected in some way by the COVID-19 pandemic. The economic impact of the restrictions put in place by government and health officials is broad, and businesses in every industry are scrambling to survive.
So, how do you help your company persevere?
Communicate often and effectively.
Before you send out any communication in any form, check your attitude. If you’re projecting fear, your franchisees, employees, and customers will likely echo it. On the other hand, if you’re ignoring the circumstances to be falsely positive, you’ll do more harm than good when reality inevitably sets in. Be honest, be open, and don’t leave out any critical information.
Setting a tone may not be easy. COVID-19 is complicated, and the solutions aren’t simple. However, every business has only two choices: battle through this crisis hour by hour, day by day and week by week, or quit and give up. It’s really that simple. Once you decide to battle, keep your glass half full and always stay in touch with reality.
Find comparisons within your industry.
The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are not hard to find in the media. It’s all everyone talks about. As a leader, you should compile useful information about how the pandemic and shutdown are affecting your industry and how your competitors are coping. This is not a time to try to one-up the competition—although you do want to come out ahead—or put your head in the sand and ignore what they are doing. In these unprecedented circumstances, we are all learning from each other.
For example, our vice president of operations, and I send out daily memos to our franchisees. In these detailed memorandums, we include real-world examples of what is happening in our industry (restaurants closing, layoffs, expected sales decreases, government initiatives, and mandates and much more) and, more specifically, what we are doing as a brand to help them survive. We do not do this to intimidate our franchisees, but we do want to make sure they understand what they are up against by arming them with facts and useful data.
Put safety first and make sure you are following guidelines.
From the first moment we realized the impact this was going to have on restaurants, and specifically our business operations and the franchisee’s businesses, we worked closely with franchisees to ensure they understood the changes brought about from COVID-19 by recently enacted and updated local, state and federal guidelines set by health and government officials. This means most of our restaurants have been closed to dine-in business and operating for carryout only for several weeks now. We’ve also provided information, so they were able to review the numerous policies, procedures, and standards to ensure employees and customers felt as safe as possible.
Adapt to survive.
In many industries, including restaurants, sales are down significantly. We know this will continue for some time, and no one really knows what the new normal will look like. That said, we have taken steps to combat the decline in sales and the shift in operations as much as possible. We are marketing aggressively, including creating new family meal deals that we have never offered, and are discounting more to customers for their benefit and to improve the cash flow of our franchisees. Only a few restaurants in our system have temporarily closed, but many have deceased their hours as customers have adjusted their dining habits. We are also in the process of rolling out third-party delivery.
None of these were in our short-term plans for this year or even next year. We are responding to this pandemic to the best of our abilities by gathering facts and communicating with as many knowledgeable people as we can to help our franchisees weather the storm. Above all, we are not reacting to fear or the negative data that is being disseminated. So far, it seems to be working. Sales have gotten slightly better, while still down, as the pandemic continues. We’ve been able to compare our results to other fast-casual restaurants, and we are encouraged.
More than anything, we have seen our franchisees, general managers, and crew members rise to the challenge. Their commitment to success has allowed us to uphold the brand standards that have made us great for more than 37 years.
For any business owner or leader, my best advice is this: fight to survive. Stay focused and stay the course, persevere, and never quit. We do not know when normalcy will start to return, but we do know that it will happen eventually. When it does, the businesses left standing will be those that chose to fight.
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