Yeah. I’m that guy. I love survival shows. You know the ones - a man, woman or group of people dropped into a strange environment for a specific number of days or weeks even months, and expected to survive. I am also the guy who lives vicariously through their journeys. I see things I would have done differently - things I would have prioritized over others or distractions I would have ignored. You know the drill. It’s all fun and games until you’re the one alone and trying to figure out how to make it to the next hour much less the next day. There are hazards unknown, natural predators, scarce resources, and unknown weather patterns. These are things to be considered within the first hour in a new terrain. When the habitat has been harnessed, surviving morphs into thriving. It’s a beautiful thing to behold.
I was watching a popular survival show a few nights ago and began realizing that what businesses are going through right now with COVID restrictions, work from home mandates, and limited social engagement, especially for restaurants, is in many ways just like a survival scenario. So in this blog I thought it would bring a new perspective for all of us to explore the parallels of surviving, with the end goal of converting surviving into thriving. I am going to take a restaurateur perspective since Norris Ventures works mostly within this vertical.
Ok. Game on. You have been dropped into the cold arctic north of COVID 19. While you know you’re not alone, in this market you are alone. There is no one like you in your market. If you do not agree with this statement, then we need to have a different conversation. Either you have a unique value offering for your immediate market area, or you’re in the wrong business. Send me a message if you need to identify your UVP or UVO. We will find it together because you DO have one...or three. Back to our analogy.
There are several things you MUST assess. First, terrain and topography. What does the landscape look like? Is it hilly, mountainous or flat and endless? Second, inventory natural resources. Where is the water supply? Does the vegetation offer anything edible? Third, assess natural enemies and predators. Are there any tracks or signs of predators? How about shelter? Are there natural formations that could make a good and sustainable shelter? You immediately survey the landscape to answer these critical questions. It will take not only the answering of these questions but also the harnessing and utilization of these answers to convert surviving to thriving.
Many of you are in this process now with your businesses. Just as in a survival scenario, this terrain is new. When you opened your restaurant, or any business for that matter, you didn’t foresee that an international virus would bring your business’s growth and success to a crawl. None of us did. But here we are. The terrain is new. It is challenging but not untameable. In the next few lines, I hope to provide some helpful insight on how to transition from surviving to thriving during COVID, from one survivalist to another.
This season of restrictions and distancing is unlike anything that has impacted the business culture before, at least in my professional career. Some have compared its effect to the great depression. I wasn’t alive then and wasn’t trying to grow a business then. My grandfather used to talk about it, but he was a farmer. He saw it through the eyes of the land. So what does the terrain look like from where you are? Is it flat and endless or so mountainous you have to look straight up to see the sky? Whatever you are seeing in front of you, each has its pros and cons. Here they are.
If the landscape in front of you is flat and endless, the con is that you can easily get lost. You must be sure to create intentional landmarks to show where you have been. Remember the places you have been with your business in the 6 months before February 2020. What steps were you taking for growth? To capture market share? To expand your menu? To take on new locations? Keep these markers in place so you will know where you have been and where you are going. Your steps now have to be intentional and with purpose. Do the homework. You can’t afford to waste energy. Every effort matters now. Every task. Every project. Every email. Every marketing strategy. The pro of this terrain is that nothing can sneak up on you. You can see and hear everything for miles. Be always scanning the horizon for changes. Shiftings. Sounds. There will be things that you will spot which will help you convert surviving into thriving if you pay attention and take good notes. Something we say around here a lot when an opportunity to learn and to be aware presents itself is, “All the smart people are taking notes.” This season is that opportunity. Be the smart people and take good notes.
Is the terrain mountainous? I was born in the mountains and I love the peaks and ridges. They call to me. So what are the cons with mountains? The climb is steep and burns a lot of calories. Some of the climb will seem untraversable. Impassable. Too steep to climb. There are springs on the way up. Find them. Pappaw would always say, “Where there is a hollar (a deep ridge in the face of the mountain) there is water.” Find the spring and drink. This could be a Chamber Meeting where fellow entrepreneurs talk about their struggles and offer solutions they have found are effective. This could be a meet and greet. This could be just a simple fishing trip with your family. Find the spring and drink. The pros are all in the vantage point of the top. When you get there you will be able to see things that you wouldn’t see from the bottom. Campsites. Water sources. Food sources. Other inhabitants. Take your time up there. Observe the valley below from both sides of the ridge. There is a wealth of information up there. Take it all in and….take good notes. You will use it all when you get back to camp.
Natural resources are those resources that an international virus can’t impede. Water, shelter, clothing, food sources. What are these for you? You have a business you believe in. You have your hard earned experience. You have your trained staff. You have your quality menu. You have comfortable and COVID compliant seating. You have a phone line that rings. You have an online ordering process that is operational. You have 3rd party services to get your menu to the hungry public. These are resources that are with you right now. Make sure you are utilizing to the max all of your natural and available resources. When we try to drive core competencies outside the harnessing of our natural resources, this is where you will make a mistake. And right now, mistakes cost so much more. Use these resources. Cultivate them. Grow them. They are resources you don’t have to go get. They are right here at your campsite. Identify them all and put them all to work for you, everyday.
Every new terrain has a natural predator. Have you identified what yours are? Here are a few to look out for.
“I can’t get enough people in the door to cover our overhead.”
This is a number one predator. Have people decided to stop eating? No. They are just eating something in a different place. So how do you get those customers who were sitting at one of your dining room tables to now eat your food at their own dining room table? Pick up and delivery. It should be on every page of your website. It should be on every social media post. It should be on every menu going out the door. It should be mentioned every time someone answers the phone. Maximize your seating based on social distancing protocols and then start filling seats inside of homes.
“My lease is too high.”
This natural predator means that it's a great time for a renegotiation of your lease. Most landlords are not wanting to have to shop for new tenants right now, which means you have a valid position to negotiate better terms for your space. In my experience over the last 10 months, landlords have been more than willing to revisit leases to accommodate reduced traffic. If this is something you aren’t comfortable with, call us. We are good at it and would love to go to bat for you.
“I know how to run my restaurant, but I don’t know how to pivot."
This can be difficult for many restaurateurs. What do I mean by pivot? Pivot could look like eliminating some high overhead things from the menu, or reducing hours, or reducing staff, or using a delivery service, or adding an internal delivery service. It's often not necessarily the willingness to do them, but the effective and seamless integration of these things into daily operations. There are resources out there to help you. Norris Ventures is one. But make no mistake; pivoting right now is the one crucial thing that must be mastered if you are to convert surviving into thriving.
There are so many more natural predators out there right now looking to prey on your business. Please listen, look, research, and stay alive. This is by no means a comprehensive look at surviving this strange season; but hopefully, it has provoked some thought and provided reassurance that we are here, ready to roll up our sleeves and get to work as your greatest ally and as a valuable natural resource for your success. We want you to win - and you will - when you successfully transform surviving to thriving by harnessing the resources available to you right here, right now, right around your very own campsite
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