Beds & Bars has sites in the UK, the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Spain and strategy and development director Luke Knowles outlined what the business has learnt amid the pandemic to viewers of the second MA500 digital conference this month (Thursday 16 July).
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Knowles explained that the company forecast 2020 as a year for growth, following investment but due to the pandemic, but that plans had to change.
He said: “Much like everyone, business is very slow at the moment in the UK and on mainland Europe. Coming into this in March we were pretty hopeful of a strong year.
“The past 12 months for us had been very successful, we are a growth business. We got good support with our bank, we raised a bit of cash through sale of assets and it had allowed us to take on addition leases in Germany and Scotland and just tidy up some local shareholding we had and bring it back into the company as well.
“We had a super strong 12 months leading up to March and luckily we had heavily invested into our core estate as well. We were looking at the 2021 financial year as being a rocking year for us.
“But Covid-19 had other ideas and much like other businesses we dropped off the edge of a cliff, come middle of March and we found in Europe those couple of weeks we closed earlier than we did in the UK were really critical in terms of being able to control the spread of Covid-19.
“Also the increased testing most countries were doing meant they had a better control of it. That has meant we have managed to go through the reopening of those businesses a little bit earlier.”
When comparing operating overseas to here in the UK, Knowles has learnt some lessons during the crisis.
He added: “In the UK it seems quite easy to get things done. Being a UK-based business, we fast-forwarded some of the innovations we were looking at doing such as moving to contactless and keyless etc was something we had in the pipeline, we just had to accelerate it due to Covid-19.
“It has been more difficult transferring that from the UK across to Europe simply because we mostly use UK systems and they need to adapt for the different laws and different regulations across each country.
“In terms of [learnings] from the EU bringing back to the UK, exchange rate has always been good but that's not particularly operational. We have been looking at the way the regulations have been working for staff has always been slightly better than the UK.”
He also highlighted the differences in operating here in the UK against countries across the continent.
Far more notice
Knowles added: “In terms of learnings we can have in England against Europe. There aren't a lot that are operational, most of them are down to regulation that has been set by local government.
“In Germany, France and Spain, face coverings are mandatory and they have been for a matter of weeks now.
“It was a very quick decision Governments made there. Social distancing was at a 1.5m gap from the beginning, that stuck in place. In France it is only one metre.
“Those decisions have been made and stuck with, which allowed us operationally there to get our businesses ready to open far quicker, we had far more notice than we had in our UK businesses.”