‘Keep running’ urges operator

Mothballing your business may have repercussions, suggests a leading coach operator

An award-winning Cambridgeshire coach operator has urged fellow operators to maintain basic services during the pandemic lockdown.

Richard Grey, MD of Greys of Ely, has retained a skeleton workforce while furloughing others. He says people are still planning weddings and other events, while some companies still need staff transport. He says that mothballing an entire operation could be counterproductive when lockdown ends.

“The current situation is an opportunity to use your time to develop marketing plans which may have been too time-consuming in the past, while also providing staff training, which can be done during furlough”

He cautioned against ‘gaming’ the furloughing system and other government support by mothballing businesses, not only because he believes it could be morally wrong but because restarting business systems with short notice could result in a ‘race to the bottom,’ with brokers stepping into the vacuum to snap up business from hirers who have found no other route to obtain quotes: “I think we need to use this time to plan ahead, not totally shutting down.”

Richard says he has taken the opportunity to examine all costs and cut any unnecessary expenditure, while taking advantage of other opportunities, such as the drop in fuel prices. He has also taken the opportunity to develop new ‘touchpoints’ for customers, such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, in addition to developing video networking and meetings through Zoom for staff communication.

“Operators need to be operating their companies at some level throughout this crisis. I fully understand that some operators will be in a different situation to ourselves, but this may not be the right time to be taking a complete holiday. We need to be all over our sales processes so we can take advantage of any business which develops.”

Richard also had a word of caution for operators who find work and decide to lift staff out of furlough: “With staff on 80% of their wages in normal times, work which offers less income than the furlough payment isn’t likely to go down well. But operators must make it plain to employees that it’s entirely in their remit to recall staff from furlough, and staff cannot refuse to work.”

He says that, by now, employers should have offered staff full advice about taking rent and mortgage holidays, and other ways staff can mitigate against having a reduced income.

“In the longer term, this is about the health of your whole business, and this message needs to sink in with employees.”

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