Our Covid19 Journey from a Gourmet Pawprints team perspective written by Kerry and Diesel. …………As we walked into March 2020 and were feeling great we had given something back to the bush fire affected areas by subsidising a Magical Mystery Doggy Tour to Mansfield to support their local communities. I still remember tucking Bella up for the night on Sun 8 March, after back to back tours that weekend, finishing with a Yarra Trail Doggy Winery Tour. So happy it had been a great weekend seeing so many returning and new guests but never did we think this would be the last tour on Bella the Dog Welcoming Bus for what would be 9 months. As mid March rolled around, it became evident that we needed to find a way to deliver our Urban Explorer Doggy Trek sans Bella. This would be our first ‘pivot’ even if the word had not yet taken on the meaning it has today.
On 1 April 2o2o, the Gourmet Pawprints team had their first virtual meeting to discuss ‘what next’, ‘where to from here’, ‘what did this all mean’. With the hope we qualified for JobKeeper, we decided as a team we would take the opportunity to do a deep dive into the business processes and see what could be improved. As the business owner, I was well and truly occupied with the copious information about grants, loan reprieves and JobKeeper, getting Bella regulations for being parked up sorted and just trying to stay positive. Let’s just say the team were use to me saying “I am in cage rattling mode”. This was my euphemism for trying to get answers from endless Government agencies to understand what was going on, what was available and to try and support the business and the team. I really wanted us to be able to stay connected, provide must needed financial support to the team and keep the business afloat. It was unbelievable to see the team put on so many hats and to utilise their varied skills and backgrounds in what ever way was needed.
The team rallied around the idea of looking at what we could improve and we used an age old technique of a SWOT Analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) as the way to look at every aspect of the business. We brainstormed, laughed, analysed and importantly cared about each other. Each person had a different set of personal circumstances that needed to be considered and we just looked after one another. We did a virtual Team Well Being Course to give us some time to reflect personally and boost our confidence we could do this. By the end of April, we had developed a series of projects to embark on over what we thought would be 3 months. As more Covid19 information came to light, we quickly realised that our usual Truffle Hunts over Winter would not happen and we decided 1 Sept was going to be our Go Live date with Doggy Walking Tours and the revised Urban Explorer and would have to leave Bella to cool her wheels until 1 Oct. This all seemed doable – hmmmm.
With Diesel’s assistance in each team meeting (OK read barking when he heard voices coming from the computer!!), we had a plan and projects by month mapped out and each team member had their to do list. Admittedly we were all out of our comfort zones, but we were grateful for JobKeeper. Even if my wine bill went up exponentially getting it sorted. I spent a lot of time putting plugs into areas of costs, nagging our Accountant for information, ringing Members of Parliament to make our voice hear, and staying connected on the all important social media. Even if at times I could not bare to hear the awful news coming from the way more vulnerable parts of the community and the tragic lives being lost. I had our Local State Member of Parliament on speed dial and I have to say, she was amazing in championing our voice when mine was filled with ranting!
As May rolled around, we had found our groove as a team and the areas of the business we wanted to improve. I personally have to say without this amazing support from the team, I think I would have fallen apart with the enormity of the issues we faced. Just when I thought I was exhausted, there was a long term guest who placed an order for some dog equipment just because she was thinking of us – such a special gesture. Then came a phone call from a Winery, to see if we were OK. Then the Victorian Tourism Industry Council provided much needed advice and webinars to help to wade through the volume of stuff. Industry colleagues reached out and provided a venting/laughing/strategic/what ever forum and my heart started to sing from the energy and I thought, we can do this, it is only until 1 Sept, right?!
In among it all, we found out that where we store Bella was being sold , rand we would have to look for a new home. I was eerily quiet that day, was this burn out? Our landlord was a truly wonderful person and it would be sad not to have him around, but the doggy gods looked down on us and it all worked out with Bella being able to stay put – phew! At least Diesel got to sniff around the local area putting his nose to good use in trying to find a new home for Bella.
In June, the team got together for a training day to test some of the ideas and we found even more things we could improve. I was starting to feel excited that this ‘breathing space’ might actually be a blessing.
As July started to set in, we were still hopeful of 1 Sept opening, so it was off to refresh our Canine First Aid Training virtually for the team. The projects were rolling in, with a complete revamp of the Operational Procedures Manual, Risk Management Framework and our Guest Journey. Each week without fail, the team logged into a virtual meeting, gave updates on what they were working on, how life was going personally and importantly staying connected.
My days were filled with daily walks with Diesel, stopping by the local cafe to support them, encouraging the team in areas they had not worked in before, managing booking transfers and being eternally grateful when we had to move yet more bookings that most folks chose to transfer rather than get a refund.
It was going to be our 7th Birthday as a business on 1 Aug and we thought a team dinner was in order at a local restaurant. We had achieved every single project in our 3 month plan from April to July and it was time to celebrate.
Then bang – as all Melbourians know, the second wave hit us and this lock down was going to test everyone. The birthday celebrations were held virtually with many laughs and OK a couple of vinos!! The first couple of weeks of August were probably the most challenging for me as I found the air was out of my balloon and I was lost in the uncertainty and my own ability to lead us out of this. However, yet again the team rallied, propped me up and just got on with more projects.
We proudly employed another person in July who worked on expanding our Guest Journey so we could reflect on what really mattered to guests. We were off and running again with a Loyalty Program and researching how to put this in place. It was wonderful to catch up virtually with some long term guests to ask their views on what we had drafted and then to look at the systems we needed to implement. With that underway, we managed to finally get an online store up and running, so that Diesel could sell his favourite Doggy items.
As Sept came and went and we had the tough task of moving more bookings and realising we were not going to be back on Bella any time soon, so we put together a Virtual Doggy Gin and Food Experience and prayed the little dollars we had to invest would pay off. And WOW, on 18 Oct 2o20 we hosted 32 humans and 44 dogs in a Zoom meeting.
We then decided that if Bella had to stayed parked up, we would offer another Virtual experience this time with a favoured author and winery – meet the makers – A Virtual Doggy Book and Wine Experience.
We were not going to be beaten by a vague Victorian Government Road Map so off we went planning a drive yourself tour with the theme of The Amazing Race. OK – so you might be forgiven for thinking we we turned lemons into lemonade and yes in some cases we did. It was a true honour to be surrounded by this team who just kept giving to each other and to the business survival.
However, as any small business owner knows, there have been some very cloudy days with no sign of hope, little motivation and a myriad of organisations to contact to keep the financial pressures at bay.
In Oct it was yet again trying to make sense of our responsibilities to our guests, venues and team. We developed a Covid Safe Plan and Guidelines and all completed Infection Control Training. We just wanted to again try to be in the best position possible. We know many of our venues we be finding their feet over the next few months and we certainly only want to make bookings when we can be confident of supporting them and not adding to their worries because of uncertainty.
It is now the 30 Oct 2020 and only yesterday did we get some advice about the Tour and Transport Sector of the Tourism Industry and it seems that buses can only operate for 30min with a maximum of 10 people onboard. More details to come after I weave my way through the detail.
As a team we want to reach out to everyone who has been impacted by Covid19 and to know not for one minute did we think of our position without considering everyone who has been impacted. I personally want to thank Sharon, Elouise, Jane, Michaela, Robyne, Felicia, Melissa, Ralph and our very supportive guests and venues.
So to all our existing and new guests, we truly hope to see on our Virtual Doggy Book and Wine Experience on Sun 29 Nov and/or our Doggy Winery Amazing Race on Sun 6 Dec. We really appreciate your support and hope you are taking care to stay safe and sane xxx Paws Out from the GP Team