Case Study – when your shops have to close

Photo taken by Jaconelli Gerardo

Our first case study looked at how a small consultancy firm had to adapt following the onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic.  For our second case study we look at how Richer Sounds adapted with the realisation its 52 stores would have to close.

Julian Richer, author of ‘The Ethical Capitalist’ explained that the biggest challenge was firstly, the security of their 510 workers, secondly, preserving jobs and thirdly to preserve profits and the survival of the company in the long-term with a focus on cash management.

He set out the key actions they took:

  1. No-one would be forced to work as an important principle.  They closed the shops before the government asked them to.  They did a survey of their shop staff and a slight majority felt it was now time to close so they took that step immediately.  Julian felt bad they hadn’t done the survey earlier and for the previous 7 days he paid an extra £50 a day to each member of staff who had still come to work.
  2. For those with symptoms they trebled the sick-pay so that they wouldn’t be forced to come to work.  They included 4 groups: those sick, those shielding vulnerable people, those with others in their household who were unwell, and those who felt uncomfortable coming to work.
  3. Richer Sounds became a virtual company overnight – they furloughed two thirds and the remaining 170 colleagues started working from home.
  4. They subcontract out their warehouse but were really anxious about health and safety, social distancing, signage and markings, and the fact employees weren’t being consulted about what they wanted to do.  They were getting SSP at the minimum level and not being rewarded for coming into work in spite of the risks.  The warehouse had national guidelines but after much negotiation, they allowed Richer Sounds to give £100 of supermarket vouchers on a weekly basis for those who came into work.  They also provided snacks free of charge on the warehouse floor as gestures to appreciate and thank them.  They provided PPE and increased the cleaning levels with shifts for eating as well as putting in three of their own managers to monitor this 24/7.
  5. They purchased PPE really early for the shops when they were open and in the warehouse.
  6. The furloughed colleagues were given a guaranteed real living wage and they were paid on time ahead of Richer Sounds receiving it from the government.
  7. RS’ Chairman and the MD forfeited their salary, furloughed 3 Directors and the others took a 20% pay cut and some senior managers also did that.  This was done to show solidarity and share the pain with furloughed colleagues as well as to minimise costs for the company.
  8. Julian is doing a podcast twice a week to all colleagues which are about 15 minutes long – what’s happening, mistakes made and lessons learned, and sends out useful attachments such as recipe tips, etc.
  9. There is a coffee morning on Zoom once a week for all colleagues which has been well received.
  10. They have also pushed their ‘Helping Hands’ fund which exists to help any of their colleagues in hardship at this time with the HR department mindful of where this may be needed.

He feels the government has been very generous to companies with employees through their furlough scheme and, as a company, they have also been relieved that they were still able to sell their goods online which has made a huge difference.

I simply want to highlight Julian’s first comment: his first concern was the security of the workers and secondly preserving jobs.  This is exactly what we would expect to see in a responsible business and the reason our first five components focus on employees. Their welfare is put ahead of profits – don’t we all want to work somewhere like that?