This week Charlie Gilkes, co-founder of Inception Group, that owns 11 conceptual venues the best-known of which include Mr Fogg’s, Cahoots, Bunga Bunga, Maggie’s and Bart’s, talks about his journey managing a company literally stopped in its tracks by the pandemic.
As told to Miranda Wilkinson
I think like most people, we were in complete shock initially. Never in our worst nightmares did we envisage a time we’d have had to shut all of our venues for almost a year and overnight our revenue would go to zero. It all happened so quickly, and it felt like a very surreal nightmare at first.
We had to make lots of incredibly difficult decisions to cut costs quickly, by far the worst of which was having to say goodbye to some longstanding colleagues through no fault of their own. We were grateful for the furlough scheme which enabled us to protect as many jobs as possible and we engage with landlords and creditors, many of whom have been very supportive to help us navigate this incredibly difficult past year.
We have tried to adapt as much as possible.
When we first reopened after the initial lockdown, we embraced PPE and social distancing in a unique way using Victorian mannequins at Mr Fogg’s and beekeeper suits at the House of Botanicals. Our customers enjoyed the fact that whilst taking Covid safety seriously with enhanced cleaning, enforced social distancing and track and trace policies, we also lent into things with some quirkier details in ways that fitted well with our brand narrative. Whilst closed, we’ve also brought as much as our content online as possible from virtual explorer talks to cocktail masterclasses.
Later last year, we decided to start sending our best Cahoots and Mr Fogg’s cocktails in pouches that fit through letterboxes in the post. We’ve also developed really fun interactive cocktail kits with all the ingredients. The drinks come with QR codes to scan which show fun, immersive instruction videos. These have been really well received and we hope that these items will continue well past Lockdown.
I have learnt so much throughout this crisis. The most important lesson is the difference between profit and cashflow! It has been a big realisation that despite planning as well as you can, things can unfortunately happen that are out of your control. It’s also, I think brought the hospitality industry closer and we have all tried to help one another, sharing information and ideas and I think it has shown what a powerful force and voice we can be united in the future.
The business is currently in hibernation waiting for 12th April when some outdoor spaces will reopen, and on 17th May they expect things to fully start getting back to normal.