|The things that will see you through|
The current lockdown period has come at the most inopportune moment possible for me in many ways. Our business had a very good year last year, on the back of eight years solid growth. We started making plans to expand and spent a large sum on putting the final touches to a new studio block building. After several false starts on the financing front, a major investor contacted me in late January. We had preliminary meetings and I felt very positive. Two weeks ago, I was told that due to the current circumstances, all new projects were off. To be honest, I would have probably have pulled the plug myself, if they hadn't. Over the last three weeks we saw a massive tail off in bookings. Customers long term projects and tours have been cancelled, as individuals and countries have locked down. Deposits have been refunded, this week has seen negative cash flow, all our staff laid off and no clue as to when we can re-open. Thanks to the governments scheme for benching staff, we can keep them on the cards, but it will be difficult and the detail of the scheme has not been released. I had two weeks of sleepless nights worrying about them. Several had already taken the decision to self isolate for health reasons(we've had a policy of taking staff with medical issues, so long as they can do the job). I have assurred all of them that we will move heaven and earth to make sure that they have jobs whenever we can reopen. It is not clear to me how the governments scheme will enable this to happen. I envisage a big dip into our reserves. It could be that by the end of the lockdown, we are back where we were eight years ago, mortgaged to the hilt and facing a massive job of re-establishing our business. Even if every music venue on the planet was allowed to open tomorrow, it would take months to get all of the schedules back on track. If I was given to despair, this would be the time.
Then there are my kids. One is about to finish a degree, the Uni has not told her how this can be achieved, she is in limbo having worked her socks off. Another is applying to start a Uni course in September, again all up in the air. The third was planning an around the world trip. That too has gone up in smoke.
In April, I celebrate my 25th wedding anniversary. My brothers and sisters and friends are on lockdown, no party, which is a crying shame. I had planned to get my wife a nice bit of jewellery from Rockman Jewellers in the Broadway, but lockdown has scuppered that as well for the time being.
On Sunday night, I was at the Mill Hill Churches night shelter. To see the fear on the eyes of my fellow human beings, as they contemplate the coming weeks was heartbreaking. I have a home, they have nothing, except what they can carry. For them, sleeping by the radiator, on the floor of a drafty church is luxury. Far better than a doorway, where drunken yobs may urinate on you, set you on fire or assualt you. Everything happens for a reason. That was probably the wake up call I need.
So lets work back through the problems. Sure I may not be able to buy a nice bangle. But I have a partner who has been by my side in good times and bad. Through loss of parents, friends, through illness, through arguments. We'll survive.
Then the kids. They've been spoiled rotten for all of their lives. This is new. They are uncertain, but they have a home. The fridge is full, the heating works. They have two large, friendly dogs to play with. Life will return to normal. They may even have a better perspective on life.
And the business? We will survive. I have time to sort many things out that we've not had time for previously. Running a business like ours is very much like playing 'Whack a mole'. We focus on the big issue of the day, with little time for long term strategy. We have made plans, but not in the way we should. Most of our most successful initiatives have been by accident. There are many things we could do better, but have simply not had the incentive to resolve. If we don't come out of this period with a robust plan to drive the business on and make it a better run organisation, serving its staff and customers better, whilst making a larger profit, then we would have failed and we should flog it!
I've always believed a profitable business is one that serves its customers well. The better you do it the more money you make. Historically, we've always had a mission to provide the best facilities for everyone, from the international touring bands, to the kids who can just about manage three chords, have no money and are at the start of their journey. It is pretty clear to me that we could be far, far better at the top end of the market and far, far more helpful for the kids at the bottom. The mission has always been to get the kids who are just starting, to learn that being a performer is fun and that it will enrich their lives. It builds independence and self esteem. We've historically done this by providing cheap studio space. What we find is that bands who could pay far more hog this, block book it, locking out those who are less savvy. That is no criticism of musicians who are smart enough to make our booking policy work for them, but it is a big criticism of how we help new musicians. Over the last few years, we've also developed a strong customer base of older customers (most of who are now in lock down). This has been by accident and it occurs to me that we need to serve their needs better as well. This is an ideal time to sit back and get a proper strategy to address all of these issues.
But none of this is really what I wanted to discuss. It's just that as you, the reader and me, the author have time on our hands, I can discuss these things fully and in context.
So here I am, a fifty seven year old man, with three grown up children, cancer, a wife, two dogs, two sheds and two ponds, living next to the M1 motorway and the Thameslink railway in Mill Hill, being forced to stay in my house for up to three months, with nothing to amuse me but the said items above. I can't even take up trainspotting, as the trees I planted 20 years ago now obscure my view of the line, which is not altogether the worst thing in the world.
I've worked all of my life, for much of the time at two jobs, running the studios and doing jobs such as IT consultancy. For much of my working life, it has been 60-70 hour weeks. I had a period of about 12 years when I supported a major banking IT system, processing debit cards, that meant I was on call 24 x 7 x 365, meaning the mobile phone came on holiday. Meals with friends were disrupted, sleep patterns wrecked, plans laid to waste. Five years ago, the studio reached a point where I could step away from this life, and two and a half years ago I bit the bullet. It was all going so well...... We had plans to go to Vegas in September and for a cruise from LA to San Francisco. That was the ship that Donald Trump wouldn't let dock recently, as Covid-19 had struck it. And there I was, looking forward to some sunbathing, with my dreams in tatters!
The Universe had other plans. Oddly, the sunbathing came early, I caught a few hours today, as a cloudless sky allowed warming rays of sunshine to beam down. There I was in the back garden, listening to the trains and cars. Lying their with my eyes open, I realised that there are two things, above all else I need to do. My mind was drawn back to a short Youtube video posted by our local Rabbi. Now, most of you will know, I am not Jewish, but all of the Rabbi's I've known have been very insightful characters and well worth a listen. I recalled his words.
Don't Pass Over Passover!https://t.co/JPPH0NrYmK— Yitzchak Schochet (@RabbiYYS) March 22, 2020
|We all matter|
|The sun comes out in the harshest times|