HR Toolkit & HR Helpline Case Study – Last updated April 2021
The Infusions Group – Surviving the pandemic and coming out the other side
Our latest mini-series blog, we chatted with John Jackaman, Founder and Managing Director of The Infusions Group. Based in West Suffolk, the umbrella brand has four core areas of trade – a restaurant, cook school, an e-commerce business selling ingredients and equipment to chefs worldwide, and a dry stores business supplying restaurants and hotels in East Anglia.
Tell us about the last year for The Infusions Group. How tough has it been?
It’s been one hell of a year, and for us, sadly, that hasn’t only been because of Covid.
On 20th March 2020, the Prime Minister announced that restaurants would have to close, and as a business supplying the hospitality sector, that was devastating to hear.
But then the ‘double blow’ of that period came just 24 hours later when a dreadful fire broke out causing in excess of a million pounds of damage to four of our warehouses – including our restaurant and cook school.
Looking back, those first few days were numbingly horrific because we had no idea about things like furlough or grants and how they may work, and I recall sitting down with my fellow directors on the Sunday and us all just staring at each other, saying ‘what are we going to do?’
We had over 50 people in the Infusions team at the time across all areas of the business, so our thoughts were on how we would hold on to them, but we were also trying to move quickly and create opportunities just to ensure we could survive as a business in such unprecedented circumstances.
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Tell us some of the ways in which you were able to be agile and create changes in this challenging year, to help your survival:
Within 24 hours of the first announcement by the Prime Minister “recommending” restaurants close, we had set up a ‘click and collect’ service for groceries from one of our warehouses, which proved extremely popular with the public looking for food items that were in short supply at the supermarkets .
It was nothing compared to our usual revenues but a valuable revenue stream when we most needed it.
It was a case of an agile team repurposing our website to do something it wasn’t designed to do, but, with a few adjustments, worked perfectly.
We had a lot of conversations, ensuring we could get rent extensions, rates relief, grants, loans, and then of course furlough when that was confirmed.
As we were unable to access the restaurant kitchens as a result of the fire, we also invested in a beautifully converted 1960’s Airstream, Bessie, and started offering takeaway pizzas as an additional revenue stream and a way of keeping staff employed.
We also set about restructuring – streamlining departments and processes, making efficiency savings wherever we could and upskilling all of our team so they could be multifunctional across all areas of the business.
It was all about looking at how we could keep the business going at reduced financial outlay, and still be ready with a fighting spirit when the doors were able to open again.
What’s been the impact on staffing?
We now have team members including directors. We are no different to many in the hospitality industry, but the decisions that had to be made have been very hard.
All of our team have been on flexi-furlough throughout the second lockdown.
It’s absolutely saved us. We would have been dead without that scheme.
Talking of people, what HR lessons did you learn, and what specific work did you need MAD-HR to help with?
MAD-HR were able to help us clarify various processes and procedures, and assisted us when needed so that we felt completely supported.
It’s been a complicated time and we have had to try and navigate a lot of unchartered waters.
We’re grateful MAD-HR were there to help us through it.
We also feel confident we’ll generate employment again in the months ahead.
What’s been your biggest lesson or accomplishment this year, and how are you feeling about the roadmap and a ‘route beyond Covid’?
This crisis has forced us to get back involved in the business and really reconnect in ways we hadn’t been doing as business owners.
For the first time in many years, we were hands-on and scrutinising every aspect of potential cost-saving, and that meant discovering all sorts of improvements that could be made.
I’m so proud that the efficiencies that we have introduced will mean that everybody from the Infusions team to our customers will have a better experience.
I’ve learned – as have so many others during this pandemic – that it really is important to have a true work/life balance, and I want us all to experience that when we return.
In general, I think the government has done a pretty good job in the circumstances and the roadmap looks positive, but sensible.
I’m super excited to get up and running again and really want to see Infusions back doing what it does best.
Carole is a thoroughly professional HR specialist and demonstrated to me on a number of occasions, how quickly she was able to grasp the detail of different situations that arose and her ability to rationalise the options and implement the resolution.