The big questions as businesses set to reopen

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Costa to trial opening in May, possibly July for Rockliffe Hall Hotel; Mill Volvo show room gets June 1 reopening go-ahead – Tees business leaders talk the ‘new normal.’

There are two words on everyone’s lips as the Covid-19 crisis moves into a new phase: new and normal – and how they go together when it comes to getting the Tees region back to work.

Is it possible? Easy? How will it look? When? Four questions – no easy answers.

But, speaking in a recent Tees Business Leaders video Q&A, three of the Tees Valley’s leading figures, who between them employ hundreds of workers across the automotive, hospitality and leisure industries, have confirmed they are ready.

Coffee chain Costa, with franchises run by Wynyard-based Racz Group, will trial a reopening at the end of May; July is a possible for the reopening of hotels including Rockliffe Hall Hotel.

It will be a very different landscape but hundreds of man hours have already been invested into making it work – with safety the paramount concern.

Jason Adams, managing director at five-star Rockliffe in Hurworth, closed the hotel, its restaurants, golf course and spa in March – only the golf course has been able to reopen.

Every single operational procedure has been rewritten, says Jason.

“Taking golf as an example, we have a golf operational team in full PPE to welcome guests and show then to the first tee, which has been sanitised. The club house is closed. I’ve never seen that before – and that’s just golf.

“As many touch points have had to disappear as much as possible.

“We have got to make sure our team is safe, our members are safe and our guests are safe.

“It is looking like July at the moment for hotels, the spa reopening maybe later as there are still a lot of questions to be answered.

“We have done huge amounts of planning so when the moment does come, we will be ready to offer that five-star service.”

That intense level of planning has also gone on across the North East’s Mill Volvo franchises.

A skeleton staff have kept round-the-clock essential services running since lockdown, mainly for NHS and key workers. Eight workshops are now open and planning in place for car showrooms.

“This is here to stay for a period, a year to 18 months has been suggested, until we get a vaccine and that looks like it might not happen until next year,” says Jeff Tabb, operations director.

“Routes in to show rooms are changing, the way we interact with customers is changing, we’re implementing online sales, click and reserve, click and collection.”

The industry is working together to move forward, he says, and that’s been a positive.

Cashless, no contact delivery will continue, thinks Racz Group owner Mike Racz.

He owns several top brand franchises on Teesside and beyond including Costa coffee shops, Domino’s pizza and Anytime Fitness gyms.

While Domino’s has remained open and popular, he now plans to trial the opening of two Costas in the North-West later. If successful, says Mike, more will be considered.

He says: “Every business needs to look at the click and collect concept, the delivery concept. We have contact-free delivery already at Domino’s and I think we will see that.

“We’ve got used to home schooling, Zooming, no cash, ordering everything, we now queue to get into a shop, that has become normal.

“There has been no panic. We as a society have managed it incredibly well. Carry on and keep calm is really evident.”