For a business focused on growth, its rapid reorganisation in order to continue serving its customer during the worst of the pandemic has created a quiet confidence that it has both potential and resilience. After all, March 2020 brought surprises that nobody had predicted.
“Immediately, we had to meet several challenges,” says Mr Potier. “We had to continue activities but make sure that our staff did not get infected.” Half of Bruneau’s employees remained on-site, while the rest work from home – and half of them had never done so before – which meant rapid provision of technology.
A daily morning meeting reviewed the health and safety of staff, and reported the previous day’s orders; customer service issues; product offers and marketing; and the cash position.
During the period of lockdown in France from mid-March to the start of May, sales fell sharply. Bruneau put in place the state-funded ‘partial activity’ schemes. For six to eight weeks, 50% of the office staff were on furlough. Many of Bruneau’s customers – tens of thousands of small businesses across France and Belgium – disappeared. “There was nobody to receive the packages. Thousands of parcels each day were not being received because people were not at their offices.” Protocols had to be rapidly established for drivers delivering parcels to customers at home. A call centre run by a sub-contractor shut down completely. “We were a little bit submerged for a time,” says Mr Potier.
The company was one of the first to access a state guaranteed loan but this and other contingent measures were never, ultimately, required.
But in the end, it doesn’t matter how good you are at reacting if you don’t have the fundamentals in place – in this case a strong established B2B brand, a slick e-commerce platform and great customer service. Because Bruneau had all this at the start of 2020, its future beyond Covid-19 looks brighter than ever. ☐
A full version of this interview appeared in PLATFORM 04, Winter 2020/21