Jonathan Creasey said the family-owned retailer, which operates the M&S franchise locally, established its own version of the Civil Contingencies Authority when the pandemic and lockdown struck last year.
‘We’re a small family business, really. We’ve got a lot of staff, but it’s a very flat organisation and we like to be involved. So, we’re always on the shop floor and out and about, and meeting people,’ Mr Creasey told last week’s Guernsey Institute of Directors’ mid-term event.
‘This was just surreal in so far as the last thing you needed to do is get people together.’
Describing the importance of ‘management by walk around’ of stores and chatting to staff to take the temperature of the room, Mr Creasey noted this was not possible during lockdown.
‘But even when you went to do your shopping, you were then in that paranoid sort of state as you walked around the shop and knew you couldn’t stand still for too long. Equally, I really wanted to reach out to the staff who I knew were just under a huge amount of pressure. So it was incredibly difficult.’
It was a situation that felt ‘alien and just against the grain’ for Mr Creasey.
Creaseys, which has a small board made up of family members, also had good foundations allowing managers on the ground to get on with the job in hand.
‘We then had to almost have our own equivalent CCA.
‘Our senior management team really sort of stepped up across the board and those guys were the guys at the coalface.
‘We really had to trust their experience and trust their knowledge and their decision-making at that time. And communication through just very small touch points, if you like, throughout.
‘These guys were working long days, too long, and getting phone calls from Public Health at nine or 10 o’clock at night, and then having to disseminate information out to a huge number of people.’
Any changes in the ways the business could operate had to be considered in the context of whether it was safe for staff and then customers.
‘In the lens of the triple bottom line, people-planet-profit, profit was elsewhere at the time.’
It was ‘unreal’, he said, that stores had to be closed to fill shelves and the Creaseys department store closed, for the first time since the Second World War.
‘It’s all about trusting people having good rhythms and routines that people were able to sort of just operate with,’ said Mr Creasey.