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Surviving disaster – How our 2007 roof collapse helped prepare us for COVID-19

The recent Covid crisis has echoes of the disaster we survived in 2007, which is what prompted me to write this piece.

Even though things in the UK are getting back to a relative ‘normal’, it seems like it’s going to be a long time before we shake off the looming feeling of disaster.

The Covid-19 pandemic is probably the most significant emergency to both our health and our jobs that many of us will experience in a lifetime. And while it has been incredibly strange, worrying, and at times challenging, many sectors and businesses remain hopeful that the bounce-back will be quick.

2007 roof collapse

Everywhere you look, the media are telling us about the recovery plan:

• how the government is helping with funding to get businesses up and running,
• how communities are pulling together,
• ………. and of course, that we should be going out to eat and drink to help our local hospitality businesses.

EXPERIENCING A DISASTER AND BUSINESS INTERRUPTION – FIRST TIME ROUND

MIt has not been an easy time for any of us, but at Croft Filters, the Covid-19 pandemic is not the first disaster we have encountered – we have survived before, and we will do again.

Back in 2007, an incident in which our factory roof collapsed led to 50% of our staff being hospitalised.

We had to close immediately and to be honest, at times it didn’t look as though we would ever be able to open again. Due to the roof containing asbestos, the site was not safe for staff to return with any speed. Our entire operation went from a bustling and successful factory to being run from a small unit; both our physical business and morale were severely damaged.

It was, in no uncertain terms, a disaster for the company and the Croft team as a whole. I remember several people that I spoke to during this time relaying to me that they were unsure that the business would ever be able to recover, and at times, it felt like they might be right.

But instead of admitting defeat, we knew we had something worth fighting for, and we channelled this determination into doing everything we possibly could to get the business back up and running again. I had never felt so aligned with the analogy of the phoenix rising from the flames!

So what did we do?

PICKING UP THE PIECES

We brought in some business consultants who worked brilliantly with what we had left. The consultants, among other things, looked at our vast database. This was initially to let customers know that there could be a delay with their orders. We pride ourselves on the speed of our delivery turnaround, and it was important to us that we kept customers in the loop.

As well as using the database to communicate our situation, the consultants performed another business-critical function which was overdue – they looked at our pricing strategy. You know how it is where you’re so involved in the business day-to-day, looking at the ‘bigger picture’ and where things need to change can get lost in all of your other general ‘to-do’ lists.

Our prices also needed to change to represent our situation, and because they had needed updating for some time.

The outcome, unfortunately, was that we lost clients; something I am sure many companies can relate to as they are navigating the Covid pandemic now.

Here is how it worked out for us.

We lost a certain number initially, then slowly the number crept up as we gained new clients and others returned.

But what happened was that after trialling different companies, our customers returned. They realised that our price point for the quality of the product we delivered was still unbeatable; a lower price is no substitute for excellent quality.

MANAGING MISFORTUNE AND COMING BACK STRONGER

Back to Croft Filters and our roof.

Once the building was repaired, our team returned to work, learning to start again after a period of crisis and uncertainty – sound familiar?

The recent Covid crisis has echoes of the disaster we survived in 2007, which is what prompted me to write this piece.

Some 40% of SMEs never reopen after a disaster, and 25% of those that do, fail within a year.

Business Continuity Management is something that all businesses should have in place; a working document which can help during times of unexpected business disruption – as we all know, these things happen when we least expect it.

Your Business Continuity Plan should cover how your business will operate during a major disruption such as fire, crime, IT system failures or interruptions, premises disruption or loss, staff availability or natural disasters.

Even before Covid, nearly one in five businesses suffer a major disruption every year. A study into how businesses recover from disaster highlighted the key point that companies should not expect to return to the status quo, they must adapt to their new circumstances.

After surviving our own disaster in 2007, as a company, we felt well prepared to deal with the events of recent months; not all businesses were as lucky.

Looking back, I can see that it was the strength and determination of the great team we have in place at Croft Filters which helped us pull through – it is this attitude which will help businesses currently experiencing their crises to survive.

Neil Burns