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Thinking Beyond Survival: How to Prepare Now for A Brighter Future

Craig Dunaway

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Thinking Beyond Survival: How to Prepare Now for A Brighter Future

In the last month, we have witnessed once-thriving businesses in all industries permanently shutter. In the restaurant industry, UBS recently predicted that 20 percent of restaurants could permanently close because of COVID-19. Recently, I wrote about the steps businesses could take to survive. Although we are in the midst of COVID-19 and the daily challenges that it creates, it’s now also time to think past this survival phase and prepare your brand for what may become the new normal.

The businesses that have made it this far have done so in great part due to the drive and determination of their leadership. They continue to fight for every nickel and instill a “we can do this attitude” in their organizations, even though sales have taken a huge hit during this trying time in our country. As others have closed their doors, you may be facing less competition. This means that what is now considered surviving may eventually turn into thriving when the country begins to reopen. By surviving now, you are building up momentum for the future.

Learn from Short-Term Solutions

Many businesses have put new systems in place or modified policies to drive sales, manage costs, and overcome mistakes made by suppliers. Instead of assuming everything you have done to survive is a short-term solution, think about the changes you’ve made and how you can use what you’ve learned to strengthen your business after the pandemic ends. Having overcome complex problems, you likely have streamlined your business in a way that you can maintain lower costs and greater efficiencies, even when sales start to return to normal.

Businesses that were already built for efficiencies and economies of scale have generally suffered less than those with higher costs or bloated operations. That said, many businesses have made those adjustments to survive this far. If you have, don’t simply revert back when things improve. What you have done to survive can make you more successful later.  Challenge the old way of doing things and assess if the changes are efficient and translate better for long-term prosperity.

Focus on Your Team

Employees are the lifeblood of any business, and you’ve likely seen the best and worst of yours during the COVID-19 pandemic. With unemployment skyrocketing, hiring should be easier, especially in previously competitive industries like retail and restaurants. Training is still critical during the pandemic, and it will set you up for growth after it is over. With a stronger team of highly motivated employees, you will be ready to serve more customers when the time comes.

Be Ready for Pent-Up Demand 

A Harris Poll found that 63 percent of consumers are willing to resume routine activity when shelter-in-place rules are lifted. Even though local and state government officials may ease the restrictions to prevent a mad rush, business owners should prepare now for a steady increase in business. The restrictions will likely be lifted at different times and in different ways depending on where you are located, but it is good to have a plan now for when normal activity returns.

Just as your business has suffered during COVID-19, you should also recognize your suppliers are also struggling. Talk to your suppliers so you can understand if they are ready to handle larger orders, both financially and operationally. How does their supply chain appear? Can they purchase the raw materials needed to make your products and do they have the available capital to continue as a going concern?

Know how you might change your marketing message and discounting, if necessary. By putting in extra work now on planning, you will be able to take more advantage of the increase in customers when it comes.

In the meantime, the attitude remains critical. It is difficult to oversee a crisis from both 30,000 feet and ground level, but teams that have a never-give-up attitude have and will continue to fare better during this crisis. Continue to be uplifting for your team, and you will inspire and be inspired by the efforts, work ethic, drive, and determination of your managers and employees.

The decisions that each of us is making during this pandemic are defining us more than we can imagine. Recognize that all concerned eyes are on your brand: judging, evaluating, and critiquing. People are watching you: vendors, suppliers, franchisees, managing owners, general managers, hourly crew, spouses, children. Each other. The list is endless.  Make decisions you will be proud of when it’s all over.

Craig Dunaway has been president of Penn Station since 1999. Before joining Penn Station Inc., Dunaway was a partner at the regional accounting firm of McCauley, Nicolas & Company, LLC in Jeffersonville, Indiana, where he had worked since 1982 in various staff and managerial positions. Dunaway has a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Indiana University and is still a licensed CPA. Dunaway formerly had ownership interests in a Papa John’s® franchisee that owned 11 stores, and he served as the secretary/treasurer for that Papa John’s® franchisee. In addition, he had ownership interests in Coastal Cheesesteaks, LLC (headquartered in Raleigh, North Carolina) until June 2011 and in Louisville Cheesesteaks, LLC (headquartered in Louisville, Kentucky) until January 2014, both of which are Penn Station franchisees. While a shareholder in those Penn Station franchisees, Dunaway served as secretary/treasurer. Penn Station was named one of the Best Franchises to Buy by Forbes in 2016 and 2018 and one of the Best Franchise Deals by QSR Magazine in 2016 and 2017.

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