April 14, 2020

“Now What?” Community Conversation Takeaways

Whether you call it a ‘new normal’, ‘business as unusual’, or the ‘next reality,’ you need to be ready. The second topic in our Community Conversations series focused on “Now What?” and navigating the best path forward, led by David Walsh and Zachary Winfield. We looked at strategic and tactical ideas for what you should be doing right now, getting ready for re-opening, managing your human resources, monetizing your now, and how best to take the long view.

Key takeaways included:

  • Have a plan. Plan for multiple financial scenarios and a phased reopening accounting for all the factors that the new future will look like.

  • ‘Don’t waste a good crisis.’ Now’s the chance to refocus on your mission—look at what’s most important to your core mission and what you shouldn’t/don’t need to be doing going forward.

  • Reimagine your business model. What are the new ways to generate dollars with no or fewer visitors through your gate and how can your cost structure change…for the long term?

The session delved into several key areas. Each of those topics is listed below, along with some of the thoughts that were shared.

Things To Be Doing Right Now
Thoughts on how to tend to the most urgent issues while you’re still in triage mode.

  • Model your future. The future is uncertain. While we all hope for a swift conclusion to this crisis, hope is not a strategy. Many of our clients are in the process of trying to quantify a range of possible scenarios, from opening in May to staying closed through late summer. Within each scenario are a range of variables to consider—what will our capacity be; which operations will remain shuttered—each with downstream implications. You can’t know which version of future is coming, so you must be prepared for all of them.

  • Manage your cash. It goes without saying that this crisis is placing a tremendous financial burden on organizations in our industry. Do you know your daily burn rate? If not, you should. By having a close eye on your expenses, you allow yourself the agility to react quickly and efficiently.

  • Shore up your balance sheet. This is a time to take a close look at how you may be able to manage and restructure debt that you may have on your books. Talk to your bankers about extending terms or refinancing to take advantage of low rates. 

Preparing for Re-Opening Under the New Normal
When you do re-open, what considerations will you have to make to be ready for a world that looks very different?

  • Determine your new “full capacity”. The assumption for the time being is that some version of “social distancing” will remain in effect. That means that whatever your facility’s previous capacity was, the new “full” is somewhere south of that. With some simple math, you can make a fair estimate of what that number looks like. Look at creative options for queuing and spacing at the entry and in exhibit viewing areas.

  • Explore new concepts for guest services. Some participants noted they were considering extended hours in order to make up for decreases in total capacity. Others shared that they were looking to limit hand-to-hand interactions by implementing time-ticketing, advanced admission transactions on their websites, and touchless payment options.

  • Look for win-wins with local corporations. When the doors do reopen, the public will be looking to get out and enjoy themselves. Approach local commercial interests to offer them opportunities to sponsor “buy-outs” or events. This offering will help to bring visitors back to your facility and buy tremendous goodwill for your sponsors.

Managing Your Human Resources
How to make the most of the staff you have and keep as many of them as possible.

  • Create a plan to re-staff. If you’ve laid off or furloughed staff, you’ll need a plan to quickly get back up to speed once doors do open.

  • Voluntary decreases. Instead of laying off positions (which could decimate your operating capacity), consider asking staff to take a voluntary pay reduction in order to keep employees. You may be surprised that some staff at all levels may be willing to take a voluntary reduction.

  • “Rent” your employees. One participant noted that they had reached an agreement with a local grocer (who was desperate for vetted, reliable, competent employees to meet sudden demand) to take on their employees while the zoo was closed. The zoo organization shouldered the cost of their employee benefits while the grocer paid their wages.

  • Eliminate the positions you’ve been meaning to anyway. If you have a position or three that you’ve been meaning to eliminate, there’s no time like now to act on that plan.

Monetizing Your Now
Just because your facility is closed, that doesn’t mean all revenue needs to stop.

  • Leverage your streaming platforms. If you’re like many of the zoos and aquariums out there, it’s likely you’re doing some sort of livestreaming. Many streaming platforms allow you to add a “donate” or “tip” button to your videos.

  • Get out with an ask. Despite uncertain financial outlooks, many organizations are reporting big success with their crisis fundraising efforts. A simple, earnest appeal could result in tens of thousands of dollars in donations.

  • Get creative. One participant noted that her gift shop was fully stocked with Easter-themed merchandise in anticipation of a big sales season. With her zoo closed, she and her team decided to prepare and sell Easter baskets for curbside pick-up. Very creative!

The Long View
What should you be thinking about for the longer-term?

  • Consolidate resources. Your organization is likely not the only one in your area who’s looking to cut expenses. Explore opportunities to partner and get the benefit of scale on back-office services like human resources and financial management.

  • Re-Focus on Mission. We’ve all experienced our own mission creep over the last several years; programs may have been added but now have limited reach and impact, events may have been added that produce little in return. Evaluate and assess offerings to ensure they fit with mission and enhance impact.

  • Reimagine your Business Model. How can your whole organizational structure shift to take advantage of the ‘new future’? Can education programs be delivered differently, not just now, but for the long-term? Will guest services and admissions be changed permanently toward contact-less transactions?

Thanks to the over 60 participants who tuned in and shared their thoughts. Click here to watch the full recording.

“Having a plan enabled us to keep our hope alive. Perhaps in a similar fashion, people…can be reminded that no matter how dire the circumstance, or how little time you have to deal with it, further action is always possible. There’s always a way out of even the tightest spot.

― Chesley B. Sullenberger

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