Three Blue Ducks: lessons learnt during the COVID-19 pandemic
What could you have done to develop more business resilience pre-COVID-19? Andy Allen and Paul Dewhurst from Three Blue Ducks in Sydney share the lessons they’ve learnt.
Being prepared to weather a crisis on the scale of COVID-19 is a big ask, especially when you don’t see it coming. Over the past two years, the pandemic has forced many businesses to either close down or make dramatic changes to their operations with little notice. Three Blue Ducks’ operations manager Paul Dewhurst and Andy Allen, co-owner and MasterChef judge, reveal lessons they've learnt during the COVID-19 pandemic.
When times are good, doing what you do well tends to be the main focus. So, looking for new ways to make money may not be imperative. It’s a different story when once-reliable revenue streams dry up – and in the case of the COVID-19 pandemic this happened practically overnight. When this happens, finding alternative ways to maintain cash flow can mean the difference between sinking and swimming. For many businesses, the opportunities are there, provided you’re prepared to think creatively.
After shutdown measures designed to slow the spread of the virus came into force late March 2020, Three Blue Ducks was forced to close its venues in Sydney, Brisbane and Byron Bay. A week later, the business branched into the fresh food and takeaway market, supplying gourmet produce boxes to Byron Bay locals and a pared-back menu to Sydneysiders keen to enjoy their fix of fresh organic fare at home.
As restrictions slowly began to ease in some states, the restaurateurs amped up their activities. “For Mother’s Day, we offered a three-course feast menu for two to 10 people, which customers could reassemble and serve at home,” Allen says. “We thought we’d get 50 orders and we ended up getting 750. We were blown away.”
It was an eye opener which reminded Allen and his co-owners of the importance of diversifying their revenue stream. “We’ll continue doing take-home and feast meals after normal service resumes,” he says. “Offering those extra services meant we were able to get our turnover up from zero in late March to 20% of the usual figure in May 2020.”
Changing the direction of your business is often a considered move. Studying the pros and cons and deciding on the best way forward can take weeks or even months. However, when events unfold as rapidly as they have during the pandemic, it’s time you might not have. Doing whatever you can to keep going can help lessen your losses and put you in a better position when you’re ready to get your business into full recovery mode.
“Pivoting overnight wasn’t the way Three Blue Ducks would roll under normal circumstances,” Allen says. “We’d research a plan thoroughly and map out a course of action but when it came to responding to COVID-19 everything was on the fly.”
Allen and his co-owners shut down their restaurants and reopened them, albeit in a limited capacity, in a matter of days. With the focus on getting the business back on track as quickly as possible, costing analyses for new menu items and tasting notes for staff went by the wayside.
“Flying by the seat of your pants is not our usual modus operandi but I’ve learnt that, when you’re in a crisis, a quick decision is a good decision,” Allen says. “It’s been stressful but I’m really proud of what we’ve been able to do to keep the business operating and our team together.”
Most business owners try to keep a cash reserve for unexpected expenses but knowing how much to put by can be tricky. Some enterprises aim to have enough to cover their costs for a couple of weeks, others prefer a bigger buffer.
Being able to get access to additional finance can be invaluable when circumstances change suddenly. Conservative fiscal practices meant Three Blue Ducks was in a strong position when the COVID-19 crisis struck last year. While the business has been able to pay suppliers and employees without recourse to external funding, its leadership team wanted to ensure they had enough in the bank to fund its recovery.
“When the government announced they’d be working with institutions to offer the Coronavirus SME Guarantee Scheme to provide unsecured loans of up to $250,000, we applied to Westpac,” says Paul Dewhurst.
“Because we had a good track record and our accounts were up to date, it was a straightforward process and our application was approved in just a few days.”
The business has yet to dip into the funds but expects to do so over the next few months. “For us, it’s a back-up,” Dewhurst says. “It’s reassuring to know we have access to capital that will put us in the best possible position to rebuild as the economy opens up again.”
In extraordinary times, business owners may need to pivot and paddle hard to stay afloat. Using lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic to make your business more resilient can help put you in a stronger position next time a crisis occurs.
This article is a general overview and should be used as a guide only. We recommend that you seek independent professional advice about your specific circumstances before acting.