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HR Toolkit & Strategic HR Consulting Case Study – Last updated April 2021

Swiss Camplings – Surviving the pandemic and coming out the other side

There’s no denying that the hospitality industry was devastatingly hard hit by the pandemic.

But what happens when you’re a key supplier to that sector? How does a business weather the storm and exist ‘in limbo’?

In the latest of our mini-series, we’ve been catching up with Richard Turvill, of Swiss Camplings, to find out exactly that scenario.

At the time the pandemic arrived, you had a multimillion-pound laundry business serving huge numbers of hotels and holiday venues. How dramatic was the impact of the announcement?
Put simply, it was a case of losing 95% of the business in as little as five days.

Leading up to that point we had had a strategy focused entirely on growth and success, and our reputation was truly ‘stand out’. We have two of the newest and greenest laundries in the UK, and only in January 2020 we had opened our plant in Papworth, into which we had ploughed £6 million.

Our model is owning our own linen, renting it, and cleaning it as part of that ‘hire purchase’ contract.

Inevitably, when the very venues we supply were being told to slam their doors shut, we were going to feel it hard.

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Presumably, with sheets still on the beds of venues, and a need to logistically collect your own stock in various locations, you couldn’t simply press pause on your operations in those first few weeks?
Exactly. We had several tonnes of linen to get back in, before we could think about our own close-down period.

Those first days were about carrying out the necessary logistical process on one side, but also looking at the books and doing what we could to slash through our expenditure and think about how we would deal with our 250 staff.

Initially, while not aware of furlough coming on the horizon, we knew we would need to look at a redundancy programme, as there simply wasn’t going to be any revenue for a good while.

That’s where it was great to be able to call on the services of MAD-HR – who we retain – as we didn’t have a dedicated HR manager in place at the time, but knew we would need lots of guidance and support.

Furlough was clearly a positive introduction for you, but despite that being something of a financial assistance throughout this, you’ve really had to be very focused on your ‘people strategy’ as the various lockdowns have come and gone:
We certainly have. We’re a ‘just in time’, or ‘reactive’ style business service which needs to quickly ramp up when the demand is there.

That structure has meant there have been periods in this last year where we went from having people at risk of redundancy, to a government announcement allowing staycations, and me ringing staff and saying how busy we were going to be and that they were needed in.

There was also the issue of making it safe for staff when they did come back into the factories.

We were concerned about the risk of outbreak in our facilities, and we wanted staff to feel confident, so we adapted the factory for social barriers, made a system for identifying who was in the toilet at any one time, looked at where and how people could take breaks and lunches – and even had to revise our very modern ‘fingerprint scanner’ system for signing in to work.

It wasn’t easy, but our people had to be the priority.

Did having access to MAD-HR help with all those uncertainties and hurdles? Were there specific ways they were able to assist you?
While I’ve never been a great fan of ‘HR’ per se, I’ve always been of the belief that you have to have your fundamentals in place – your employment contracts & GDPR situation for staying in contact with staff, your redundancy scenario, and your grievance processes.

Carole and Charlotte have been a huge asset in helping Swiss Camplings establish those, and it really paid off during this challenging time.

Throughout the pandemic we’ve also participated in some of their webinars, accessed other information they send out or published online, and they’ve also played a key part in helping us recruit our own HR manager during lockdown.

How have you stayed in contact with staff and maintained a sense of ‘connectedness’ to the business?
Most effective in getting engagement was setting up some WhatsApp groups, and I’ve made sure to be really honest with the whole workforce about what this was doing to the business financially.

I was very transparent about our bank discussions and shared that we were losing as much tens of thousands a week, but always I emphasised our efforts for retaining their job security.

We also set up a training portal, and started rotating the few available roles which has helped staff keep up to date as much as possible, while we wait to resume fully.

What are your expectations and hopes for the months ahead? Do you feel positive about the ability to bounce back?
Right now, we’re focusing on improving our safe working systems and having increasingly more conversations with staff and customers as it gets toward a point where we feel the return to business will happen.

I’m sure laundries will go out of business as a result of this, but we’re fortunate because of how we’d looked after our money previously, and while our paper losses for this period will be in the millions, I’m still very optimistic.

My belief is that we’ll see an incredibly positive time in the staycation world, and we’re excited to be a part of it. This is going to be a year of growth for us and I can’t wait until the doors are fully open and I can see all my teams returning and further new recruits joining us.

For more about Swiss Camplings, go to https://camplings-linen.co.uk/