As we move into Phase 2 of re-opening of the Irish economy, I spent some time last week reflecting on Phase 1 and about some of the businesses that impressed me, particularly the small local businesses in Naas where I live and where my office is based, and how they contributed to the health of the town and to my mental health.
The easy decision for most businesses was to remain closed during this pandemic, mainly because it was too difficult to overcome the challenges that trading through COVID-19 brought. Many business owners did not know how to or did not have access to the expertise that might have helped them re-open. And that is a real shame as there were real opportunities out there for businesses to steal a march on their competitors and gain new market share.
So well done to the following three business, as Dermot O’Leary from the X-Factor would say, in no particular order.
Every morning as I walked through the town, the only beacon of light on Main Street was the small Urban Kitchen outlet in the Caspo Centre. I had never been a regular customer of Urban Kitchen, but now, it was my only option for a coffee and I was hugely impressed by how they had managed to get up and running so quickly. I later found out that they took advantage of a Business Continuity Grant from the Local Enterprise Office to get their social distancing and re-opening strategy in place. Yes, their prices had increased, but I am OK with that, as I understand that their costs of operating have gone up as well and as anyone who is in business knows, being in business is about making profits. So well done Urban Kitchen, I will be back on a regular basis when this is all over, as you have won my loyalty and the coffee is good.
Swans on the Green
Every Friday afternoon for the last 10 weeks, I have had to go to Naas Hospital to give blood and on the way back home, I would also stop into to the institution that is Swans on the Green, for an ice-cream. And if you need an example of how to run a business during a pandemic, you will travel a long way to find a better one than Swans. Everything ran like clockwork from the queuing system to the friendliness of the staff, from never running out of stock to continuing to offer a wide lunchtime food offering and meeting the needs of the town.
However, this type of well-oiled machine does not happen by accident, it comes about from doing lots of little things very well. It is a quality offering that provides value for money through its service, selection and staff. So, hats off to Larry and all his team for what they do for the town.
Unit 3 Health and Fitness
My final local hero is a business that I know well and has been using for some time before any of us had heard of COVID-19 and that is Unit 3 Health and Fitness, based in Naas Industrial Estate. Unit 3 is run by Lillie Stewart, Gary Moorhouse and Niall Barrett ( aka No 13 and survivor of the RTE hit show, Ultimate Hell Week)
I am sure there are lots of people like me out there who started off with great intentions of using this time to get and stay fit and I started off like a steam train. And most gyms, started off like a steam train as well, with great enthusiasm and offering a wide range of classes and programmes. However, like a lot of us, those gyms also ran out of steam and enthusiasm and they are now not running the same number of classes if any at all. Not so, Unit 3. They are still offering the same service as they did at the start of shutdown and they are continuing to attract a very loyal following. The key reason for this is the quality of the team in Unit 3. As well as Niall, Lillie and Gary they are well supported by team members Kelsey, Orla and Conor who are as engaged and enthusiastic as they are when running their daily classes when the gym was open. To get their team to remain as committed, loyal and passionate about their roles is a testament to the community ethos of Unit 3 and when they re-open in Phase 4, they will reopen bigger and stronger than when they closed.
There have been a huge number of heroes throughout this very difficult time from frontline workers to supermarket staff and from postal workers to council workers. However, a lot these businesses have big budgets and support networks behind them. For me, the unsung heroes are the small business owners who have pivoted their businesses and made themselves relevant and in doing so, have made a massive contribution to their communities and created a positive future for themselves, and I say, well done to you all!!!!!