It’s going to be a marathon not a sprint

United Baristas founder Tim Ridley looks at how coffee businesses can survive, and even thrive, as lockdown lifts in the latest issue of Boughton’s Coffee House.

As the country tentatively lifts from lockdown, industry magazine Boughton’s Coffee House gathers opinion and experiences from across the coffee industry.

For his piece, Tim argues that there’s not going to be a return to normal in the short term; nor is there going to be a predictable ‘new normal’. Rather it’s going to be a bumpy, stop-start, career defining experience for many of us. Explore the latest issue, read Tim’s column, and learn about coffee people’s experiences during the coronavirus pandemic.

It’s going to be a marathon not a sprint

As lockdown lifts and coffee shops re-open, proprietors are going to have to balance immediate demands with strategies that will enable business to success over the medium term.

Covid-19 has been a massive disruption to the coffee industry, but the government’s interventions and support have enabled much of the industry to put their business on ice. Now that the furlough scheme is established, business rates relief and grants are in place, and with landlord rent holidays and deferrals underway, many coffee business are – in fact – in a stronger cash position than they were just before shutdown. And they need to be. The support to date is likely for the duration of the pandemic, and we’re not sure when the coronavirus risk will end.

The uncertainty on the planning horizon makes it difficult for many proprietors, especially those that have limited resources. Compounding the situation is that it is now widely anticipated that much of hospitality will be re-opening in early July. Trading with the virus still in circulation presents additional challenges. Proprietors often live in supportive echo chambers of friends, family, colleagues and engaged customers; however for the average Joe on the street eating and drinking out is seen as more risky than desirable. A recent Ipsos Mori poll found that the majority of British public think re-opening shops puts too many people at risk. Additionally, many people are also reluctant to return to the office, the core customer base for many urban coffee shops.

Some coffee shops have re-opened to date and their headline trading figures seem to reflect public’s sentiment. So far I have had feedback of post-lockdown revenues varying between five percent for central London shops to 150 percent of normal revenue for some of London’s villages.

In such an environment, success is relative. Some proprietors will be aiming to keep their businesses afloat, others to weather the storm, some to re-position for a brighter tomorrow, and a lucky few will benefit from this opportunity as a cash cow. With such a variety of circumstance it is important not to be judgmental of others or their decisions. At a certain level, we are all having to make it up as we go along.

That said, those likely to succeed are those that make decisions for the medium term. We are likely to have to manage the current situation for somewhere between another three to 18 months, and our financial resources and emotional energy is going to have to sustain us, our teams, and our customers over that period. This means it’s neither going to be a return to business as usual, nor some kind of new normal. It’s going to be bumpy, stop-start, and a career-defining experience for many of us.

It’s going to be a bumpy, stop-start, career defining experience for many of us

Tim Ridley, United Baristas

Coming out of lockdown also presents an opportunity to reimagine the coffee industry. As we re-start, this is an ideal moment to build a better industry for the future by making decisions that will both benefit us now and over the medium-term. United Baristas is compiling a list of practical resources to help proprietors get their shops safely re-opened and make the industry more sustainable.

As coronavirus passes we are still going to have to deal with the financial precariousness of much of the industry, tackle our carbon footprint, make sure we attract and retain the brightest and best talent, and continue to win consumers to drinking more and better quality coffee. Whatever the next weeks and months look like, our ongoing survival and success is still going to be determined by our response to these issues. It’s going to demand our best work yet – and it’s going to be a marathon not a sprint.