One of the hardest hit industries during COVID-19 was the restaurant industry. But while the world stopped, Calen McNeil, founder of Big Wheel Burger, was thinking on his feet.
We asked Calen to share his tips on how he managed to pivot his business during a global pandemic to not only survive, but thrive. Here’s what he had to say.
Lesson 1: Find your purpose
Step one in being prepared for the unexpected is to have a strong moral foundation as a business. Calen’s entire purpose is based on a triple bottom line philosophy: people, community and environment. He believes, and has proven, that when you take care of those things, your business will take care of itself, which has remained especially true throughout the pandemic. He found ways to up his employees’ earnings and elevated his environmental commitment by donating even more food than normal, which naturally lead to the community supporting his business more than ever.
Lesson 2: Put people first
The backbone of any business is its staff. That’s why it’s vital to treat those people on the frontlines with the respect they deserve. Calen has always put his employees first by getting to know them, fostering their interests and helping them outside of work as much as he can. So, when the pandemic started, he made sure they were taken care of first. Some of the ways he did this was by getting them back to work as soon and safely as possible and by adding an auto-gratuity to orders, which the community happily paid, knowing they were directly supporting the lives of those workers.
Lesson 3: Be transparent
In times of change, the biggest key to Calen’s success is sharing what he knows. In order to get everyone on the same page, they need to know what the situation really is. Because this has always been a part of Calen’s philosophy, he knew that he already had the trust and confidence of his staff, and they knew that they would be involved and in control of what happens next. Again, it comes down to the people on the frontlines. Make them a part of the business and they’ll keep the business going.
Lesson 4: Build strong partnerships
Pandemic or not, you need a strong network of people around you in order to succeed. You must surround yourself with people that have your best interests at heart. This includes having a supportive staff that believes in your business, healthy competition that uplifts one another, and a proactive financial partner that gets ahead of problems and comes to you with solutions. In Calen’s case, he had all 3, and was able to get everyone on the same page to move forward together.
Lesson 5: New problems need new solutions
Sometimes to stay in business, your business has to change. Finding new solutions to never-before-seen challenges can be tough, but it can also be very rewarding. For example, Calen noticed other restaurants relying on food delivery apps, but of course, those companies get a part of those profits. So, he cut out the middleman and created his own delivery app so that all profits and tips went directly to his business and employees. Never having played in the digital space like that, Calen was amazed at the overwhelming response from the community and the following success.
Which just goes to show you that if you have a strong moral foundation, can think fast and adapt, your business can thrive — even in a pandemic.
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