Page 5 - Evolve Magazine Winter 2020
P. 5

Innovation enabled us to survive Lockdown
I want to take you back to Monday 23rd March 2020. This was a very different day in our company as all our clients were closed down, retail sector, visitor attractions, venues and events. We heard a new word – LOCKDOWN!
What to do? Rishi Sunak came to the rescue with the furlough scheme and allowed us to send employees home and he would pay them 80% of their wages.
What about the business? Effectively that was put into mothballs as we were prohibited from performing any activities that constituted company promotion or revenue generation.
What could we do then? After discussions with various sources, HMRC gave some guidance ‒ it was OK to carry out product development, staff training and marketing strategy in order that when we came back, we would be in a stronger position to move forward again.
We took full advantage of that, adding new features into the software, upskilling staff in a variety of areas and starting to look forward as to what opportunities there might be once the lockdown was eased.
Moving onto late spring, the weather was really good and fruit was ripening in the fields. However, the Eastern European people who usually pick this fruit were not allowed back into the country, so Boris Johnson appealed to the country with the slogan “Pick the
fruit, save the farmers and feed the nation”.
This in itself gave us the germ of an idea in that yes, people could go and pick the fruit but there were restrictions on numbers, social distancing was required and the farm staff had to be kept safe. How then could all that be controlled? Our solution was to create an online bookings system where a ‘picking voucher’ was bought for the type of fruit to be picked. Initially this was strawberries but as the season progressed there were gooseberries, raspberries, blackberries, etc. The system we created was very simple, you pay for the voucher online, obtain a date/time when you could go and pick the fruit and then turn up at the appointed time. You present your voucher, which is exchanged for the appropriate punnet size for the fruit you are picking, and off you go into the fields. Social distancing in the fields was controlled by markers and a one-way system. Once the punnet was full, off home you go.
We were the only company offering such a system so a significant number of the country’s Pick Your Own
Farms took it on board as their method of operation. Needless to say our revenue streams just grew and grew as more farms adopted the system and more fruit became available. Some farms have even added vegetables to their offering, including pumpkins for the October season.
As the season progressed, lockdown was eased and visitor attractions were once again allowed to open, admittedly with limited numbers. The issue here was that they also had to maintain social distancing, which meant that all visits had to be pre-booked. What better way than with an online bookings system?
Enter Merlin® again, as we had the system all ready to
go with a web based solution. Event organisers could just sign in and create their own branded bookings and ticketing platform in under an hour. This was the only product of its type on the market and once again people signed up in significant numbers and our revenue streams continued to grow, enabling us to have a better June than in any previous year.
Moving into July with even more venues coming on board, from Hog Roasts to Maize Maze all needing online booking systems, our revenue streams hit an all-time high, with sales up 524% on the same period last year.
This has continued throughout August with a further increase in revenue of 46% over July. We can also be fairly confident that this growth will continue, with the need for booking being increased as cafés, restaurants, etc also have to control numbers and therefore need a bookings system. Hopefully soon, sports clubs, football and rugby clubs, etc. will also look at controlled visitor numbers, so that’s another area to add.
How did we get to where we are now, was it by chance, pure luck or more than that? I put it down to good business advice I was given many years ago ‘you don’t sell products, you find problems and sell solutions.’
I knew we had the talent and could provide the solutions to comply with the requirements of lockdown. Comments like “it’s so easy to set up”, “we had it all working in an afternoon”, “it’s just perfect for what we need” made
us realise we had found the solution they needed - true innovation at work.

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