On the surface, there appear to be plenty of success stories in the aftermath of the Covid-19 lockdown. As a nation, we are back into the full swing of things at work, unlike many of our trading partners who are either continuing or returning to full or partial shut-downs.

I’ve spoken to a number of business owners who are back at full capacity, with demand currently exceeding their recently constrained supply. Even the construction industry, usually so susceptible to economic impacts, appears to be rallying with substantial new contracts awarded and supply lines full.

However, it’s not that way for everyone. Tourism, of course, continues with a historic cost base but little in the way of current revenue. Sure, our domestic marketing campaigns are helping, as Kiwi’s reacquaint themselves with their own country, but there’s not much else out there.

Retail had slowed dramatically before the coronavirus hit, but it is having a bounce that we all hope will continue for longer than it probably will.

The hospitality sector is slowly grinding it’s way back too, but it’s hard yards. Last week the New Zealand Herald ran a story about the likely demise of one of Auckland’s original favourites. Tony’s, the Wellesley Street steakhouse born in the 1970’s, was ‘transaction central’ in the heady eighties, and seemed destined for immortality.

But sadly, as the article said, a combination of the Covid lockdown, and the unending disruption in the CBD, brought about by the Central Rail Loop construction and associated projects, means that the old girl’s days might be numbered.

The article reminded me of some great days (and nights) gone by, but also that it had been some time, probably twenty years or more, since I had been there. The discussion that followed in our house produced an admission from my wife that this grand old dame of Auckland’s hospitality scene had once been a favourite of the computer sales team that she was a part of in the eighties and nineties.

And so, in that instant, we decided that we had better get back there for one last meal, before Tony’s closed down for good.

Sunday night was our chosen time to walk down memory lane. My expectations were modest to say the least. I expected a tired old haunt, sparsely populated and doing her best to stand up on her last legs.

How wrong I was. At 7pm on a Sunday night, this inner-city nightspot was pumping. Fortunately, we had booked, otherwise we would have missed out altogether. The menu seemed vaguely familiar. The deep-fried camembert was still there. So too the fillet steak with mushroom sauce and chips. Fish and chips were there of course, and the once famous Pecan Pie with gooey caramel sauce.

With the exception of the addition of a few craft beers, and dramatically different prices – the desert used to be five dollars – it seemed that very little had changed. The unexpected arrival of the masses caught the team short, and the wait was a bit longer than ideal, but if that is the price of a bit of nostalgia, I’ll take it.

The staff said that they were not usually this busy on a Sunday. It seems a number of people read the same article as we did and reacted accordingly. The maître d’ even suggested that they might not need to close after all.

There’s an old saying in advertising land that goes like this. I know that half the money I spend on advertising works … I just don’t know which half.

But sometimes, you just have to remind your customers that you’re there. And it doesn’t matter much how you go about doing so. For Tony’s, an article in the Herald seemed to do the trick, for the time being at least.

For all of the businesses struggling at the moment, there are a few who can’t do much about their plight. The rest of us can. But sometimes, we need to remind our clients that we are there.

You might be a real estate agent or a clothing store, a bar or even a small accounting firm. Chances are that things are a bit slower than you’d like them to be.

I often say that it is almost impossible to be in front of your client at the precise moment when they decide to buy the product or service that you sell. So, if you expect them to buy from you, you need to be doing plenty of stuff to ensure that despite your absence at that key moment, you are at the top of their mind when they make that decision.

In other words, you have to be ‘landing on their desk’ at every appropriate opportunity. We all get the emails and newsletters. And we will choose which of those we wish to consume.

But here’s a point. Everyone’s doing that. What else can you do? What’s the stuff you might do that your competitor won’t? How about a friendly call to say you were thinking about your customer and wondering how they have coped through the last few months? Better still, an invitation to see your latest product range, your new premises, or an open home you’re running? As corny as it sounds, thank you notes and birthday cards still play a role in reminding people that you exist.

Whatever it is that suits your business, go out in the next week and try something different.

Because sometimes, you just have to remind your customers that you are there.

And who knows, your business might even thrive as a result. And if it does, you should wander down to Tony’s Steakhouse to celebrate.


This article first appeared in the NZ Herald on the 18th July, 2020.