Hard times are when character shines through. Back in March 2020, Rob Williams, our Managing Director, made his first COVID related announcement;
“We are keeping all of our team, no matter how long this takes, even if we need to get a bank loan or ask for government support.”
This was followed by a commitment to support Australian manufacturers, another promise that we have kept. Back in March last year, we hoped by now that non-essential workers would have been able to return to work in offices around Australia. We did not know what “COVID normal” would look like, nobody did – but we thought we’d be there by now. This obviously has not happened. Time for another announcement to reassure staff, suppliers and clients that we're standing by our previous commitments.
As a specialist that focuses on the corporate and government market, we’ve been hit by the substantial ongoing lockdowns around Australia, particularly in Victoria and NSW. We underestimated that dramatic ongoing reduction in the number of people using offices, hospitality, entertainment and tourism related venues.
As a result, many organisations have delayed investments in new filtered drinking water systems. The rate at which filters and particularly CO2 cylinders (for filtered sparkling water systems) have needed to be replaced has reduced. Our clients in the tourism and hospitality sectors have been the hardest hit.
It is important to note at this point however - that we’ve identified an education gap in the market with relation to the replacement of water filters. We’ll focus more on this as we move forward, but in short – filters have to be replaced every 6 or 12 months, depending on use. (That’s a maximum 12 months from when the filter first gets wet, even if your system has been turned off.) In the interest of everyone’s health, they should not be left in your systems for longer than 12 months.
Victoria is where we have our largest team of Technicians, and after more than 200 days of Melbourne lockdowns, it has been pretty tough. Our Technicians typically attend 5-8 locations per day, depending on the work required and the distance between jobs. In recent weeks, we’ve only had perhaps one job per technician per day. Some days less.
In 2020 we benefited from Job Keeper payments, which we are grateful for, and that helped take the edge off a very challenging year. In 2021 there has been some modest assistance from the Victorian government, which we also appreciate, but they’ve covered only a small fraction of our weekly investment in wages. If the situation continues, whilst we remain committed to keeping our staff on, when staff run out of their leave entitlements, it is going to hurt.
Despite this, we continue to be guided by our brand values. These are two concepts: ‘best brands, best service.’ How could we possibly deliver the best service if we let some of our team go? Our team are our top priority. It is important that we stick together. This way, we’ll be able to continue looking after our customers now and into the future.
In the meantime, many of our customers deliver essential public services 24 / 7 / 365, such as educational institutions, the health sector and emergency services. We look forward to keeping them hydrated!
Sticking to our values will also have rewards for us in the long run. Our experienced staff are our biggest competitive advantage. When the tide turns, we are going to be flat-out again, and it takes years to develop the skills, knowledge and particularly the team-culture that we’ve got.
Luckily for us - no matter what happens, people will still need to drink water, and their filtered water taps need to be periodically maintained and replaced – regardless of how empty their office is. More client education needs to happen around that.
We’re predicting some upside for our business in the long run. The market is changing. Workplaces are going to be increasingly focused on hygiene and environmental responsibility. This means we expect lots of workplaces to upgrade from bottled water systems to plumbed-in systems, in order to satisfy to growing hygiene expectations of Australian workers. We also think the days of trucks driving around cities with water cooler bottles in them are numbered, especially in first-world countries.
AquaClear offer national supply, installation, rental and ongoing maintenance of all major brands of drinking water filters. Bookings or enquires: www.aquaclear.com.au 1300 070 007.