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Lockdown winners: what they have in common

We’ve seen a surge in demand for our services as companies face the exponential challenges created by the pandemic. Alongside this we’ve recently announced that we’re merging with magneticNorth, a northern based digital design studio, to strengthen our offering to ensure we can help companies turn these challenges into opportunities. Lockdown has disrupted so many businesses in hospitality, travel and on the traditional high street that it’s easy to get the impression that all business is on its knees. But there has been no shortage of winners too. We’ve been observing how people are responding to the current climate, monitoring emerging themes and tracking changes across industries, as well as chatting to clients about who they perceive to be the lockdown winners – those that saw the chance to triumph over tragedy and we discovered that they all had things in common.

So, here are our top 5 thoughts on what all businesses can learn from those that thrived during the pandemic.

At 5. Don’t waste a good crisis
The pandemic has disrupted businesses in a way they’ve not been disrupted before. For the brave and nimble (and in most cases, the lucky) it has presented a huge business opportunity. Convenience, safety and the surge of people on the lookout for entertainment has seen a change in how we shop and eat. UK delivery orders surged by almost 400% in fourth quarter of 2020, recipe box businesses like Mindful Chef, Gousto and Hello Fresh have also thrived as many look to counter culinary boredom and the online food market boomed with leading beneficiary Ocado reporting a surge in sales of 40%.

It is not just the big dedicated delivery companies that are cashing in. A host of pub and restaurant chains and individual establishments have responded to the shutdown by turning their hand to delivery. One of the more successful is Dean Banks, the Masterchef: the Professionals finalist and chef director of Haar, a £1 million turnover restaurant in the golfing Mecca of St Andrews.

During the first lockdown, Banks, 32, was bracing himself to make some of his 18 employees redundant when he started cooking Sunday lunches and delivering them to locals. One year on, his Haar at Home business delivers luxury lobster boxes all over the country from a production kitchen in Perth that employs 28 people and has a turnover three times that of the restaurant.

At 4. Purposeful risk-taking, without the fear of failure
Fear isn’t talked about nearly often enough, simply because we all want to seem like we know what we’re doing. The business success stories are those who use that fear as motivation and take purposeful risks at the right time.
Rather than being more conservative with business growth plans during the pandemic, Klarna powered on and now the Swedish payments group, whose investors include Snoop Dog, H&M and Permira, are closer to IPO. The chief exec said that a stock market flotation of Europe’s largest privately owned fintech is expected in the next 1-2 years – accelerated by the surge in online shopping during the pandemic. With the option for online shoppers to postpone paying for products, providing them with an interest-free loan, Klarna allowed users to make purchases for a fraction of the up-front price in times that are financially testing for many.

Legal and General did not let the pandemic take their eye off climate change. Recognising it’s a trillion-pound opportunity, they announced their ambitions to become net-zero by 2030 just before the pandemic hit. They could’ve pulled the plug on the project that would deliver on their goal. Instead, the project became even more important, as they prioritised and drove what was core to the business’ values, and sent a clear message to employees and customers that the climate couldn’t wait, not even for a pandemic. Read more about it in our interview with Bernie Hickman, CEO of Legal & General Insurance.

At 3. Reimagining the world of work
Hybrid has become more than the new buzz word. Hybrid working is a real opportunity for businesses and employees to design a new work mode that creates value; empowered autonomous teams, a culture of trust, and building a workforce that reflects society is the future; and makes business sense too. The good news is there are already businesses recognising this and leading the way. Nationwide recently told 13,000 staff they can ‘work from anywhere’ under a newly announced flexibility scheme. Joe Garner, chief executive of Nationwide, said: “The last year has taught many of us that ‘how’ we do our jobs is much more important than ‘where’ we do them from.” The move towards flexible working will see a change to the amount and configuration of offices to allow for designated collaboration and quiet spaces. They also recognise that while its branch-based staff were less able to work flexibly, they will look for ways to better help their working day.

The Very Group are preparing for hybrid working and giving their Liverpool HQ a ‘glow up’ so that it’s the ideal setting for collaboration, innovation, learning and socialising, as they set sights on a new, permanent hybrid working model. Sarah Willett, Chief People Officer recognises the people and business benefits ; “our plans aren’t just about productivity. They’re about how we can offer our colleagues true value and get value back in return. By offering better balance, increased flexibility, interesting work, and an amazing place to come together, we can attract even more outstanding people – and retain the ones we already have.”

At 2. Being creative with digital
The past year has accelerated digital adoption at a rapid pace and it’s set to continue as we move to recovery. Businesses who haven’t traditionally adopted digital and relied on physical presence and footfall have had to pivot their offering. Normal distribution channels have collapsed for many businesses, forcing them to get creative digitally. One of the UK’s largest start-up communities, Young Foodies, has launched its own direct-to-consumer platform, Mighty Small, bringing together thousands of small brands to help them reach consumers. It’s not just local produce either, big brands who are very traditionally distributed by supermarkets like Coca-Cola are now starting to cut out distribution levels and sell direct to consumers.
TV audience numbers were already in decline pre-pandemic but the BBC put themselves firmly back on the map as they supported the nation in homeschooling. They quickly created a host of online learning tools and resources across their platforms; with schools closed and parents’ juggling working from home, huge numbers flocked to the BBC’s digital universe to support their lockdown learning. At its height over 1.6m unique visitors engaged with the BBC Bitesize website, and Daily Lessons requested on iPlayer over 275,000 times. magneticNorth have been the BBC’s digital design partners for the last 20 years, collaborating on nearly every part of their portfolio.

At 1. Pivoting to changing customer needs
When retail results hit the headlines at the start of the year, it made for grim reading. With retailers suffering their worst annual sales performance on record in 2020, a slump in clothes and household purchases, the high street shut over one of it’s busiest periods and beyond – it’s clear that the worst is yet to come. Most of the issues facing the industry were already there pre-covid, they’ve simply been accelerated and highlighted how those who adapt and work in a new way can thrive and others who refuse to emerge the losers.

Even during this tough time, Cornwall’s fast growing fashion brand Seasalt is going from strength to strength. They adapted quickly and they’ve seen strong online sales grow turnover to £75.4million, an increase of 15% on the prior year. Chief Executive Paul Hayes said that a strong online presence, reaching customers where and when they want to shop combined with a strong Cornish identity had underlined the success.

If the pandemic taught us one thing, it’s that personal situations change, and fast. According to a recent survey by the FCA, the number of financial services customers that could be classed as ‘vulnerable’ increased 15% over the initial months of the Covid-19 pandemic in the UK, and now stands at 27.7 million. Severn Trent had to rapidly re-assess their ‘vulnerable’ category to cater for a large influx of people who fell into hardship; be that financial or health-related. Identifying and supporting these customers is fundamental to serving the changing needs of their customers as we move into the next stages of the pandemic, and they’ve since beat their target of financially supporting 50,0000 customers with their water bills.

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