At BoroughBox, our customers mean everything to us. You help support our dream of championing the independent food and drink sector, and making better, honest food and drink accessible to everyone.
So COVID-19...has taken us all by surprise. It's shaken up our daily routines, dramatically changed our business, switched around some of our job roles, and quite significantly altered how we operate at BoroughBox. All of this while trying to stay fit, healthy, look after our staff and our families, and of course, deliver to our amazing customers.
We decided to interview our founder Andy Lawson to give the full lowdown on what's been happening at BoroughBox HQ during the COVID-19 pandemic:
1) Hi Andy, so first things first, is BoroughBox still open for business?
We certainly are - hopefully contributing in a variety of ways to the vital food and drink supply chain. Our online platform is enjoyed by consumers and businesses across the country ordering food, drink and foodie gifts. We distribute food and drink to other retailers and grocers to keep their shelves stocked. And, we fulfill D2C (direct-to-consumer) and B2B (business-to-business) orders on behalf of many producers who store their goods with us - so pretty much operating seven days a week to keep the country fed.
2) Can you give us some insight into how many orders you've been getting during lockdown?
Thousands ... and thousands ... and ...
3) What about your staff? There must be loads of you? Are you a team of hundreds?
We are definitely not a team of hundreds and like every other business we have had to act safely and rapidly to adjust to the new way of living and operating. Some staff furloughed needing to shield, others needing to work from home. You'll have seen in the press how other food and drink businesses needed to recruit hands-on staff for their warehouses or stock rooms, and we are the same. Recruiting and training new team members with fewer experienced office staff to help supervise has been our biggest challenge. But, I am happier each day as they settle in and get up to speed. However, it's just not the same having team pizza to say "job well done" when you all have to eat in different corners of the room. Welcome to the new world!
4) How has COVID-19 changed how things operate at BoroughBox? Has anyone had to adapt their job role?
Yes, anyone who already worked here has shape shifted to cover vital roles which require local knowledge so newbies can be trained. Digital marketing personnel have taken charge of the pick room, senior management are jumping into customer service roles - whatever it takes to make sure A gets to B as quickly as possible.
5) Can you give us some insight into 'a day in the life of Andy' at the moment?
My day seems to fly by at a hundred miles per hour. I wake up very early and immediately check the phone for any urgent messages or updates (we have some project work going in Australia at the moment, so there's a 24hr cycle of work happening). Knowing I'm unlikely to see the family again until the next morning I always have coffee with my partner and make her drink it in the garden while I chip golf balls in the garden for the dog. It's not quite the same as taking him to the park but he seems to enjoy it and who knows, maybe my next career will be on the PGA Tour!
Once I'm in the car I usually start taking calls with the team to strategise or discuss any developments (staff, deliveries, procurement, technology, etc). When I reach the office I help out on customer service for a few hours, liasing with Tom in Italy who is leading the charge. By lunchtime the warehouse is absolutely fizzing with activity and if there's an opportunity I'll then take a look at each department and where I can help. All the normal boring admin tasks that come with running a business - and there are LOADS - I'm trying to store for Saturday and Sunday at home because I'd rather be at the coalface right now making sure customers, clients and businesses get what they need.
However, there are some tasks you can't put off so payments are approved and urgent tasks ticked off. In the afternoon we make sure the various courier collections go smoothly, orders are officially dispatched for email updates, and then into early evening I stay on to supervise any warehouse staff working overtime. From 8pm onward I respond to urgent emails and usually set off for my drive home around 9.30pm.
6) Are you doing anything to help the NHS/charities at the moment?
Yes, we are. Very early on we reached out within the sector to offer our warehouse as a consolidation point for donations. Quite a number of brands reached back and everything from Kombucha and Protein Bites, to Health Bars and Biscuits have either been collected by City Harvest (feeding vulnerable people) or shipped by us to the NHS. Long may it continue.
7) What would you say to customers who are upset because their orders are delayed?
We are sorry and working around the clock to catch up.
Everyone throughout the industry is working under different conditions with unique circumstances, which creates the knock-on effect. If you just consider a simple supply chain for food and drink production - ingredients suppliers, packaging suppliers, manufacturing staff, logistics providers, retailers, and so on - you can understand how each component can affect the other. I spoke to one of our suppliers yesterday (I'd had to jump in to help the procurement team) and the lady on the phone was working one day in the office with another person the following day on a permanent rotation to keep themselves socially distanced and safer. Their production team were furloughed but being brought back from Monday to do the next run. They didn't have the right quantity of stock we needed so an order was put together using different SKU's until the next production run. The goods will be delivered next week because that's the earliest dispatch date. Take that scenario, multiply it by the entire supply chain, and you can see why delays happen.
But, what you will find in this wonderful sector we work in, those people do whatever it takes to keep you fed and watered. And that makes me proud to be involved.
8) Just how many customer queries do you get at that moment? Can you explain why some of these emails are delayed in being responded to?
With lighter staff numbers we haven't been able to deliver our usual high standards of rapid response customer service and are working through queries meticulously with a smaller team. For that, we apologise. Nothing hurts our team more than being unable to communicate with each and every customer swiftly to alleviate any uncertainty. But we haven't forgotten people. We are here. And we will come back to them. Most queries are just a simple check-in on the order and we can update with the dispatch timeline.
9) What is your team doing to catch up with orders?
Starting early, finishing late, and repeating.
10) How does BoroughBox's courier service work - do you send out all the orders from your HQ?
The BoroughBox website is a wonderful online marketplace featuring hundreds and hundreds of producers from around the country. Anything ordered from Our Collection, we ship directly via major couriers such as DPD. Other producers ship directly from their location doing the same. On each product page you can see who the product is sold by.
11) How are you keeping your staff safe during COVID-19?
We have the mix of home workers and shielding staff outside of the office/warehouse. Inside we have strict guidelines for hand washing and hygiene. There are masks available, visors, and gloves. Staff within food and drink are very used to health and safety practices, which really helps at times like this.
12) Are you getting any sleep?!
I'm not confident of being a poster-boy right now of that person who gets a 'healthy' amount of sleep according to scientific studies but I've never needed much and there is a new intenseness which wakes me up throughout the night. Last night I dreamt about ERP systems. Whatever happened to fun stuff like being able to fly?!
13) Do you have any messages for your customers?
Be as patient as possible with everyone across all the sectors who are delivering, servicing, protecting and manufacturing. No one saw this escalating to such extreme measures so quickly - but we're all over it. The team are incredibly proud to be serving you and we will deliver.
14) If a customer wants to contact you - what's the best way?
On their order email is a link to "Get in Touch", that's the best way. If all communications came through there it would be easier to not miss anyone as we have a ticketing system which multiple staff members can access anywhere around the world.
Unfortunately some customers use social media channels, which we don't have the usual staff to check on, so best to avoid if possible. Plus you can't give us any personal details in the public domain to check up with so the process becomes protracted.
Any businesses can enquire from the website and contact us area and don't forget to check out our FAQs page.