“Cold comfort”

17 July 2018, 08:30 am
Town Crier by Justin Tunstall

Do you have your own fallout shelter? I’ve never worked anywhere that believed me so indispensable to the rebuilding of civilisation that they allocated me a place in a bunker.

Nonetheless, a couple of organisations for whom I worked had empty offices in the countryside, kept clean and maintained, with mirrored IT capability, so that we could decamp in case of fire, plague or attack. I won’t venture an opinion on whether this was so that we might carry on for the good of the nation, or merely to safeguard market share in a post-apocalyptic world.

While such measures are perhaps rather over-the-top for the average deli or farm shop, I find it essential to have plans in place in case things go wrong. And they do.

Consider the basic essentials to cheese trading – let’s say: stock, looking after it, staffing and money handling. What would you do if any of those became unavailable or malfunctioned?

Staffing difficulty is perhaps the easiest to compensate for – if a staff member calls in sick, then the proprietor works an extra shift! Part-timers might do more and retired staff might like to help out for some extra money.

Sourcing stock if the supply chain gets broken is vital. Do you have an alternative supplier for your best-selling lines? How would you cope if your key wholesaler went out of business?

Handling payment can always return to ‘cash only’. We saw this recently when VISA transactions across Europe were unavailable for a day. But do you know if and how your card processing kit can work if the internet goes down? Reminding yourself of the phone authorisation protocol can ensure that takings don’t plummet if someone saws through the nearby Openreach cables.

But for me, the most vital part of my operation as a cheesemonger was the array of chillers that kept my valuable stock in tip top condition. When was your kit last serviced? Did you pay your refrigeration engineer promptly and treat him to coffee/tea when he last visited – if you did, then he’s far more likely to drop everything to get your kit back working than that of the moody, late-paying git who called for help at around the same time as you did. And while it’s out of action, do you have a plan for where your stock might go? Maybe you are fortunate enough to have spare capacity in-store, or perhaps with neighbouring restaurants?

If the worst has happened and you have had to bin the majority of your chilled stock, do make a list and take a picture of it for the insurers. As soon as you know that you have to jettison stuff, make up an order ready to action the very minute that the chiller is running once more. Pay extra for the quickest delivery that you can arrange – lost turnover is far more costly to bottom line and reputation than a one-off blip on your margin.

Dib dib dib. Be prepared!

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