Agility is key in the new norm

5 August 2020

The ability to adapt rapidly to fast changing market conditions proved key for businesses at the height of the health crisis, and it will remain so in the post-pandemic new norm, writes Lathams Ltd managing director Andrew Wright

At the end of March 2020, our industry found itself in an unprecedented position. We were faced with making strategic, ethical decisions based upon limited information and little experience of scenarios like the Covid-19 pandemic.

When the impact of coronavirus on market conditions became clearer, we had to adapt quickly. We were confident our business continuity and disaster recovery plans were robust and it was now time to put them to the test.

Our primary concern was staff well-being, leading to phased temporary closure of some sites. However, it soon became clear we needed to continue operations, with customers in healthcare and other frontline services requiring materials urgently.

Those depots that stayed open operated with smaller teams on new shift patterns and served a wider geographic area. Distancing measures were implemented and collections cancelled. Healthcare related deliveries were prioritised, with protection for our drivers.

We had significant orders for the NHS Nightingale programme and had to fulfil them in record time. These encompassed the spectrum of our stock profile, from anti-microbial thermoplastics to laminates, timber and non-slip plywood (the latter including temporary flooring to protect surfaces, such as the pitch at Cardiff’s Dragon Heart Hospital – the converted Principality Stadium).

We also saw a big increase in orders from supermarket and logistics customers. Materials were needed for protective screens and panels. New materials were being requested and we used relationships with manufacturers worldwide to ship in relevant products and hold more stock for rapid order turnaround.

Further changes focused on making our business more flexible and responsive to our customers. Sales teams remained at hand throughout the pandemic, working from home or the reorganised depots. Our phone lines remained busy and, as more customers returned to work, enquiries quickly returned. Slowly demand increased and depots reopened, for deliveries at first and eventually for pre-arranged collections.

It became apparent that deployment of technology is key to maintaining customer relationships and also allowing designers and architects to select and specify products that would become the ‘new norm’.

With the A&D community still operating remotely, we’ve noticed a surge in enquiries from our websites, with a much greater focus on health and hygiene related products. As many trading customers were working from home or with revised hours, we upgraded our website to allow them to place orders direct from an upload page on the site itself.

As things begin to settle down, we’re starting to think beyond this initial phase of the crisis. We believe health, hygiene and safety will remain paramount. Our new ‘Surfaces for Safer Spaces’ campaign supports this, explaining materials’ hygienic properties.

This focus is going to drive material selection for the next year at least, with Public Health England estimating we will need to live with coronavirus until spring 2021.

With construction identified by government as a key sector for economic recovery, it is likely we will all need to adapt to remain relevant. Agility is key. The new norm may be challenging, but I feel it may also be very rewarding.

Andrew Wright