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The Guide

Hats off to everyone running a business in these times. Covid waves have buffeted every corner of the earth and hospitality and other service industries have been particularly hard hit.  In a climate where the only certainty is unpredictability, good ideas rise to the fore. And where there is creativity there is hope, as these four local players prove.

 

Arms Length Bar and Restaurant

 

After six years as Director of Operations – Casual Brands – at Rockpool Dining Group, Rebecca O’Shea and her business partner Rhys Bailey had big plans for 2020. None of them involved opening a bar and restaurant. But they’ve captured local hearts with Mod Aus cooking, craft beers and cocktails on the bustling corner of Bourke and Cleveland Streets, Redfern.

What were your hopes and expectations for 2020?

I chose to leave Rockpool Dining Group after six great years, to go travelling in Europe and potentially have an extended stay in the UK.

Step us through your progression from business as usual in February to where you are now.

Once travelling was no longer an option, Rhys Bailey (business partner) called me up about a great site in Redfern to open a restaurant/bar – about two weeks after lockdown. The site had excellent foot traffic, a solid residential area and close enough to other key zones in Sydney (CBD, SCG, new stadium etc). We opened Arms Length on June 29.

How have you adapted to the ever-changing regulations placed on hospitality venues in particular?

When opening we knew a second lockdown or an extended lockdown was a possibility. We had ‘crisis’ plans in place if this was the case, eg Take away options. Also, our rental agreements and other supplier agreements were negotiated around the lockdown to ensure we would be financially viable for an extended period of time.

What can we expect from Arms Length (brilliant name btw!)

Arms Length is a neighbourhood restaurant and bar with share plates of modern Australian food, a great value wine list and classic cocktails with a twist.

What is your modus operandi?

We opened with a plan in case lockdown was to extend or occur a second time. We’ve updated ways to sign guests in, there are less tables in use to ensure enough space for physical distancing and we’ve ensured we have enough hand sanitizer and bench sanitiser at all times. We’re still able to serve great food and drinks, with great service.

What have you learnt from the past six months?

Life has to move forward and you have to make the most out of any situations. We were financially stable enough to negotiate some good deals and were able to open our very own neighbourhood restaurant/bar, which is what a lot of people in hospitality dream of doing.

Most useful resources/business tools you have discovered during this period?

Not too much has changed but the quick advancement in the QR codes for sign-ups and using technology for aggregators including delivery and takeaway platforms has become more advanced, with more options we’re constantly looking into – eg MR YUM, BOPPLE.

How are you feeling about things at this mid-year juncture?

Positive. We’ve been able to operate a business with some great success in the middle of winter and with the global pandemic. Cost control has been built around the current sales, and we’ve managed to ensure the restaurant is profitable.

What do you hope that Spring will bring – business-wise and more broadly?

As we move to the warmer months, even if the current restrictions remain, we have still created a great restaurant and bar, with a quirky name. More customers will feel come out as the warmer weather always helps the hospitality industry. We have managed the business around under forecasting top line sales and as we expect the business to build and the warmth to bring more people out, we will have developed a solid small business.

 

Barangaroo Orthopaedic & Sports Injury Clinic (BOSIC)

 

Sam Davison is Director/Principal of this multi-disciplinary CBD clinic. BOSIC offers a holistic approach to musculoskeletal, orthopaedic, spinal and sports rehabilitation, bringing Physiotherapy, Orthopaedic, Massage, Podiatry, Dietetics, Sports & Exercise Medicine and Exercise Physiology services together under one roof. Sam hobbled into CoVid after a knee reconstruction and emerged, sans crutches, with a new tele-health business model that continues to build.

What was your business focus in Feb 2020?

We offer a seamless, convenient and collaborative health experience in the heart of the CBD. Earlier this year we had just taken on a new Physiotherapist, Exercise Physiologist and grown our admin support to meet the growing demands of our practice. We were building a number of local community collaborations and were highly regarded by our clients for our unrivalled experience.

What were your hopes and expectations regarding 2020 at that stage?

2020 was going to be another huge year of growth for us. Having opened in 2017 and more than doubled our number of practitioners – we planned on launching a new corporate wellness offering, improving our service delivery further and constantly looking to meet the demands of our clients through access to services, improved digital solutions and looking to innovate further into the future. We also had several team culture afternoons locked in – we find these days are imperative for our team; planning, goal setting and learning something new together.

Step us through your progression from business as usual in February to where you are now.

Unfortunately, we had to close the clinic at the end of March for 6 weeks, however we utilised some of the digital work we had already been doing to pivot to an online service. Since then we have delivered more than 400 online consultations between us. We also made it easier for our clients to access health intervention by offering a mobile Physiotherapy service – going to people’s homes to avoid them needing to get public transport to the city. We have also delivered a range of online presentations with regard to ergonomic setups, home stretches and back pain prevention. We ran a range of free fitness, yoga and nutrition classes online and are now working with a number of large corporate partners to deliver virtual wellness (Yoga, Pilates, HIIT & Virtual Boxing).

Does your old business model still exist?

We re-opened our clinic in May to see new acute presentations and have continued to offer on – site, online and mobile services for our clients.

How have you adapted? Personally and work wise?

It’s been a challenging time for everyone. I have days where I have so many exciting ideas I don’t know where to start and days where it feels like I’m fighting fires. I’m incredibly lucky to have an amazing, supportive team who stepped up to the challenge and maintained our core focus of offering truly client centred care. I had some of my team pacing clients on long 14km runs, others producing some incredible professional development work for our newer graduates and another putting together an online back pain prevention program. Their energy and enthusiasm has fuelled me to push harder for them.

What have you launched?

We are now working closely with My Emergency Dr – a virtual emergency service in rural Victoria to offer remote telehealth Physiotherapy services. We have launched two new physio programs – A “run further, faster” program and a “re-emerge gym ready” program.

We now offer home visits for clients who aren’t able to travel to the city. Or we cover the cost of parking fees for those who want the clinic experience but without public transport.

What has changed about the way you operate?

We have to be a lot more flexible and adaptable. Now my admin team can run everything, almost seamlessly from home which gives them a more flexible working schedule for the future. Our practitioner team is now able to see clients online from the comfort of their own home. We have recognised a huge value in the written and video work we put online – our digital presence has never been better.

What has stayed the same?

The whole team has stayed the same, whilst we are all working reduced hours, we have maintained our culture through regular connection. Initially through zoom meetings with a theme such as everyone wearing a tie or moustache or hat. As soon as the restrictions lifted, we held a team event with a magician – a demonstration that even when you don’t know how or why or what’s next you just have to believe in the magic inside of you. It also fit nicely with our values to deliver the same wow experience to our clients.

What have you learnt from the past six months?

I have learnt to look after my own health and wellness to be in a better position to support others. I’ve been able to refine my schedule to include some more working from home to fit with my family and practice what we preach as health professionals for example regular activities / walking meetings. I have learnt that all of the challenges we faced before were really insignificant in the grand scheme of things. I have also learnt to only focus on what I can control.

Most useful resources/business tools you have discovered during this period?

I have leaned on my retail innovation program support network for their ideas and I’ve been watching what innovation has come from other industries. I have explored a lot of online materials and connected better than ever with my local community in Barangaroo and my professional Linked In network.

How are you feeling about things at this mid-year juncture?

I think we have a challenge moving forward being in the CBD. I suspect with the delayed return to work now forecast in 2021 we won’t be seeing the usual numbers in the clinic for a while. I think it gives us the opportunity to ask what our clients need from us and deliver that. Our mission has always been to offer a convenient health solution; therefore, we need to meet our clients where they are – so we have some fun ideas in the pipeline to make this happen!

What do you hope that Spring will bring – business-wise and more broadly?

I hope spring will bring some nice weather – I have loved seeing more people exercising outdoors and spending more time with those in their closest bubbles. I believe Australia is a nation that supports small business and with international travel restricted I think we will see a lot more people explore the country. I hope we are able to see a strong economy bounce back as a result of this. I think we all learn to appreciate our small local retailers and the small experiences we take for granted each day… even simple things such as getting a morning coffee and sitting having a picnic with friends.

 

Love Local

 

When COVID-19 loomed, Potts Point restaurateur Hamilton Kings surfaced a bottom-of-the- drawer idea. The result is an affordable local food delivery service that has kept his staff employed and assisted other venue operators in the 2010/2011 postcode zone.

What were you doing in February – work/business-wise

I owned and ran Honkas (Potts Point) which was growing well. At that point the major part of our business was functions.

What were your hopes and expectations for 2020 at that stage?

To grow my functions business strongly, pushing forward with growth in our a la carte trade as well.

How have you adapted to the conditions resulting from the pandemic?

Massive pivot.

Honkas as a dine-in establishment was forced to close. Honkas started doing takeaway and deliveries for the first time. Then I launched LOVE LOCAL. It’s a localised delivery platform, with roughly 20 restaurants in the Potts Point, Darlinghurst and Surry Hills area.

Does your old business model still exist?

In part. Restaurant trade is back with current restrictions. Functions are all but zero at the moment. The aim would be for these to be back by the end of the year.

How have you adapted? Personally, and work wise?

Work involves far more fragmented hours. Longer, but to be honest, I’m enjoying work/life so much more. It’s a little more simplistic in parts but definitely more rewarding (weird huh…)

How does Love Local operate?

Love Local is currently a website. We will be launching an app towards the end of August. We are delivering for 20 restaurants over 5 suburbs and offering a cheaper option to restaurants (12% delivery fee vs 33% for Uber and Deliveroo).

What has changed during CoVid?

Honkas is more dine in. There’s less trade during the week, more at weekend. The average spend has gone up. I see that people are going out less during the week (now no need to travel to work so more time to cook) but still want to go out and splurge on the weekend.

What has stayed the same?

My love for business and hospitality.

What have you learnt from the past 6 months?

Adapt and grow or you will not survive. Stay positive and it will come back in spades (our dine in trade has grown massively since returning). Also, people have overall become far more accommodating.

Most useful resources/business tools you have discovered during this period?

Perseverance, taking a chance, working hard.

How are you feeling about things at this mid-year juncture?

It’s tough at the moment. People are a little scared and we have lost a few bookings. But with hard work, it will be fine. I feel very positive about the mid to long term.

What do you hope that Spring will bring?

I think we will be through our current clusters and hopefully people will have more confidence. I’d love to get some functions back.

 

SOUL DiningBowls by Soul

 

SOUL Dining is a contemporary Korean restaurant on Devonshire Street, Surry Hills, owned by Illa Kim and Daero Lee. When lockdown hit, they swiftly launched a new takeaway and home delivery offering, Bowl by Soul.

What were your hopes and expectations for 2020?

We opened back in December 2018 when the light rail was still under construction. With the light rail finished we were hoping foot traffic and additional exposure through the light rail line would happen. The whole Surry Hills small business community was preparing for this. We had an Al Fresco dining event planned with the Surry Hills Creative Precinct scheduled for end of March but that one never happened due to COVID. We were also very much looking forward to the first VIVID Sydney in Surry Hills which also didn’t happen.

How has your business adapted to the new circumstances?

During lockdown we pivoted to a takeaway and delivery concept that is very different to our ‘normal’ offering. It’s called BOWL by SOUL. It’s a daily takeaway and delivery service. Korean soul food in a bowl. Before lockdown, we didn’t offer takeaway or delivery at all as we believe our food needs to be experienced in a restaurant setting. The new concept is not like our restaurant menu at all, being much easier to access with a lower price point and more suitable for daily meals. When we re-opened after lockdown, we decided to keep it as it was opening up new target groups for us. Our current kitchen is not big enough to do both businesses and we are now looking for a new venue for BOWL by SOUL.

Does your old business model still exist?

Yes. Soul Dining re-opened on May 26, with restricted numbers and safety measures.

How have you adapted, on a personal and business level?

We learned that there is a way to make the best of a situation even if it looks very grim at that moment. It was very difficult to rethink everything and specially to let go of certain things that you were holding on to, but in the end, we learned to adapt. What we also learned from this situation is the importance of good staff members. It was a combined effort of staying positive and being creative even in a situation like this that helped us come up with a pivot model that worked. We came out of the lockdown as a stronger team and trust each other even more than we did before.

What has changed about the way you operate?

Decision making is much faster than it used to be. We are more cautious when it comes to hiring new staff members.

What has stayed the same?

The original team.

What have you learnt from the past six months?

We wouldn’t have survived this without our team and the community. It’s all about people.

Most useful resources/business tools you have discovered during this period?

Government grants.

How are you feeling about things at this mid-year juncture?

Uncertain. Even though we feel like we got over the worst part, there is still anxiety and uncertainty about what might or could happen. It’s much more difficult to read customer patterns as buying behaviour is very different to what we are used to.

What do you hope that Spring will bring – business-wise and more broadly?

A vaccine 🙂 But also getting through this cautiously and responsively while having fun and supporting each other.

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