• Bouncing Back From a Crisis - An Open Letter from the Chamber Leadership Team

    Dear members,

    In many decades we can look back and say that not a lot happened. However, recently we have seen what can be described as a ‘decade of activity’ happening in weeks. The global COVID-19 crisis is causing sudden and unprecedented disruption. It’s impossible to predict the total impact – but these are turbulent and trying times, and dramatic action and resiliency will be required to navigate this together. People, infrastructure, small and large businesses, and economies are all being affected. With the immediate well-being and health of people rightfully being a top priority, many retail and other businesses are functioning at reduced capacity or as online-only operations. In any decade, we often have a business problem but a crisis has the potential to impact reputation, financial health or business survival and potentially all three. Crisis recovery does not happen by accident and you have heard the saying; “If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail”.

    Assuming that it’s not if - but when the crisis will end, a tactical plan is needed. Leadership in the coming months is an interview for ‘leadership’ in the longer term. The plan might be sectoral dependent and based on assumptions about different recovery models e.g. V-shaped, U shaped, W shaped, L shaped. Once you have a tactical plan, it will probably be advisable to maintain visibility and transparency, communicating clearly and often and monitoring stakeholders. Companies can elevate their reputations by handling a crisis well. Any business can look good under perfect conditions but those that rise to the occasion in imperfect conditions are viewed as more accomplished, trustworthy and successful. Stay actively connected to your customers as a trusted partner. Reassure where possible of your commitment to their success and listen to how you can help today. Over the last month, most companies have taken advantage of the digital tools at their disposal such as videoconference, and online whiteboards.

    While the weeks ahead are uncertain, the focus on digitisation, business transformation, innovation, research and development needs to remain as a priority to drive opportunities and the necessary recovery afterwards. A glance at the S&P500 shows significant differences in impacts across business sectors. The energy sector has seen a significant impact versus the health sector where spending has increased. Grocery and other related supply chains and operations are under pressure from overwhelming demand. Overall sentiment around discretionary spending is probably going to decrease in the coming months, and consumer behaviour will continue to change in light of new personal and professional dynamics. 

    In terms of a tactical recovery plan, what can you do?

    Return to work protocols

    We await the updated Government guidelines on restrictions in early May, but in the meantime, it is worth considering a return to work protocols and how physical distancing can be maintained. Where practical, expect to continue offering work-from-home arrangements to staff in the medium term. Evaluate what roles, can also operate remotely and what training may be needed to enable their success.  Prepare to be flexible and make quick decisions based on the changing situation. In preparation for reopening, create any needed new safety and sanitation guidelines, train staff appropriately, and plan how to ensure strict adherence.

    Focus on health and safety

    Keeping in mind the massive human impact, make decisions that prioritize the health and safety of both employees and consumers. This is the right thing to do, and consumers will notice how any individual treated employees and will react appropriately.  Be mindful of some employees hurdles eg. Childcare. Also, some staff may not want to return to work

    Communicate as much as possible

    Communicate regularly and transparently with all stakeholders, including suppliers, employees, and consumers. Set up regular conversations with your largest suppliers of critical categories to understand their future supply chain constraints. Set up an easy system for employees to access information and ask questions as needed. Show empathy and understanding.

    Make cash management a priority

    Focus on cash management, identifying cash balances and accounts, and a quarterly cashflow model. There is an immediate need to model scenarios for different levels of sales slowdowns and what the cost structure would be in each case. This must be followed by modelling operating models and organizational structure to get work done most effectively.

    Expand where practical eCommerce capabilities

    We do not yet know how demand may permanently shift online, but e-commerce will likely be more important for the foreseeable future and strategically part of an omnichannel model. Strengthen your online platforms and stress test apps and websites for increased traffic. Digital channels need to drive demand. Training employees on virtual selling should be a focus. Determine what changes are needed for delivery and pick-up capabilities. Reallocate budgets to online and actively manage spend. Monitor conversion performance and determine tactics for nurturing existing and new customers, while also planning to reacquire lost customers.

    Expect Changing Consumers Habits

    The global pandemic has changed our experiences as employees and consumers.

    Expect changing customer habits and demands. Once the immediate threat of the virus has passed, what will have changed is the way we think and behave and how will that affect the way we build the experiences that people need and want. Customers will have a greater emphasis on wanting to feel safe and hence social distancing, cleanliness and other health and safety measures will be top of mind. Shoppers’ habits are being reshaped in all sectors. Don’t assume past customers have the same requirements or disposable income.  Some sectors are likely to return faster due to a backlog in demand eg. dentists, health care, hairdressing and barbershops. Other sectors might ramp back slower like restaurants, bars, car sales, property sales. Community sentiment has increased during the crisis and will probably have a medium to long term consumer impact. The importance of the environment and the associated challenges highlighted by Earth Day in April still needs a focus and topics such as reducing single-use plastics will gain increased prominence.

    Hospitality focus

    Access to disposable income and business activity are key pillars of sectoral performance. Staycation offer for locals. The overseas tourist market will probably take some time before returning to 2019 levels. Hence strategies which focus on the domestic consumer will probably have more short term impact. In the Chamber, we are setting up a small taskforce to focus on this sector due to its overall importance in the Fingal area. The March PWC report entitled ‘Covid 19 and the Irish Hospitality Sector: Impact and Options’ gives a good overview of the sector and potential actions.

    Buy Local and Stay Local Chamber Campaign

    We can all help by making efforts to buy locally. The ISME Website has a quote “Every €10 spent locally on Irish products generates more than €40 of benefit to the local community in terms of employment”. In addition to providing employment, local shops, restaurants, bars and hotels use local services, accountants, insurance brokers, and suppliers. All members should consider how to appeal to local consumers and build on the community spirit enhanced during the crisis.

    Our community and your Chamber Membership

    In terms of surviving the crisis and coming through it,  connecting with your local community is vital for a cohesive and equal recovery.  This can be either on an individual or business level.  Connecting is not always about giving as it’s as much about reaching out and asking for support. Support could be in the form of advice or mentoring.  We have asked those most vulnerable in our society to ask for help and the response was overwhelmingly positive with volunteers all over the county helping their neighbours.  It should be the same for business.  Connect with your fellow members and explore what synergies and opportunities might exist.  We are all in it together and a rising tide lifts all boats. We are planning to do some Webinars on the topic of maximising your membership in the Chamber. Leverage the Chamber website to promote your brand and to give visibility to special offers or other marketing.

    Aids to Cash Flow

    • RD&I grants - If you have existing RD&I grants, it is advisable to apply for all outstanding grants to maximise cash flow position.
    • LEO Fingal - Refer to the LEO website for a list of Covid 19 supports such as Business Continuity Vouchers which could be used for some consultancy to help with developing your tactical plans.
    • Banking - Engage with the relationship manager for your chosen Bank to discuss options and plans to manage through the crisis.
    • Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme - Minister Donohue announced an update to the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme on 15th April. The changes will be effective from 4th May 2020.
    • Sustaining Enterprise Fund - This is a fund, announced on 8th April, administered by Enterprise Ireland and available to assist companies in the manufacturing and internationally traded services sectors who have suffered, or expect to suffer, a 15% or more reduction in turnover or profits or an increase in costs as a direct result of Covid-19. Funding of up to €800,000 will allow eligible businesses to access the necessary liquidity and funding to sustain their businesses in the short to medium term and contribute to the recovery of the Irish economy. The Sustaining Enterprise Fund will be available to companies who are unable to access adequate funding from the market, financial institutions or the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland (SBCI). 
    • Full Enterprise Ireland COVID-19 business supports available on their website.
    • Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland (SBCI) - Two SBCI Loan Schemes have been expanded by €450m to provide an extra €250m for working capital and €200m for longer-term loans, bringing the total allocation to support liquidity in companies affected by the COVID-19 crisis to €650m. These are the SBCI Covid 19 Working Capital Loan Scheme and the SBCI Future Growth Loan Scheme.
    • Aids to Cashflow will continue to evolve and please refer to the Chamber website and emails for updates.

    At this time, prioritisation and focus are really important. The JP Morgan story about ‘Guaranteed formula for success’ is relevant:
    ‘One day, a man approached JP Morgan, held up an envelope, and said, Sir, in my hand I hold a guaranteed formula for success, which I will gladly sell to you for $25,000. Sir, JP Morgan replied, I do not know what is in the envelope. However, if you show me and I like it, I give you my word as a gentleman that I will pay you what you ask. The man agreed to the terms and handed over the envelope. JP Morgan opened it and extracted a single sheet of paper. He gave it one look and handed the piece of paper back and paid the agreed $25,000.

    The paper read:

    1. Every morning, write a list of the things that need to be done that day.
    2. Do them’

    Please stay safe, stay positive, and stay connected.

    Yours sincerely,

    Your Chamber Leadership team

    • ​Bill Kearney, President
    • Andrea Molloy, Deputy Vice President
    • Adeline O’Brien, Vice President
    • Anthony Cooney, CEO



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