When the clock struck midnight on 31 December, 2019 and we entered a new decade, not for one second can many of us say we saw a global pandemic on the horizon… the events of 2020 certainly threw a spanner in the works for Australian businesses, not least the Strata industry.
For the December Edition of Resolute’s High Rise Times, we interviewed Daniel Hunt, GM | ACE Body Corporate Management. Daniel shares his insights on ACE’s journey through COVID-19. Their initial response, the greatest challenges in business, and for Daniel personally, as well as the silver linings for ACE as we move into 2021…
1. When COVID-19 manifested in Australia to become a real threat earlier this year, how did ACE initially respond as a franchisor, and what role did you play in guiding your franchisees through such unprecedented circumstances?
The ACE National Conference took place in Queenstown, New Zealand in early March, 2020. We had close to 160 delegates from all parts of Australia celebrating our major calendar event. After three full days of socialising and networking, we started to hear reports of the magnitude of the Coronavirus and that there was a real possibility New Zealand may have to close international borders.
Despite the close shave, I am very glad to report that all ACE franchisees and suppliers arrived safely back in Australia before the New Zealand border was closed, but it was certainly cutting it fine from a business risk point of view.
Once arriving back in Australia, the most important thing from the ACE Head Office perspective was to have clear and consistent communications prepared for our franchisees, to ensure they were in a position to disseminate this to their clients. There has been a great deal of confusion this year with mixed messaging from various government departments as well as inconsistencies between state and federal governments. Navigating and contrasting the authentic sources against the speculative and alarmist information was probably the most challenging aspect of business during this time.
While it was important to be proactive with our communication to franchisees and their end clients during COVID-19, the most important thing was to be factual, and ensure we were citing accurate sources.
2. In your experience, what do you feel was the greatest challenge of 2020 for ACE franchisees?
The uncertainty of the whole year has been incredibly difficult for everyone, and unfortunately strata managers often had to have difficult exchanges with clients regarding items such as levy arrears. While all businesses would like to say that they only have positive exchanges with their clients, the reality from my experience is that the strata industry presents its own unique challenges in this regard. Strata managers are often dealing with complex situations, diverse people and stakeholders, as well as managing large sums of money on behalf of their clients. Harmonious close proximity living is something that all strata managers set out to achieve, but once again, this is a complex industry and not every conversation daily is a pleasant one.
From April to approximately September this year, there were widespread media reports of the Australian economy falling off a cliff face once JobKeeper ended. The net effect this was predicted to have for strata properties was massive debt and a catastrophic impact on cash flow. While this has largely been avoided from anecdotal experience so far, the general hysteria and panic at the time had a real impact on positive communication between clients and strata managers.
With restrictions now easing in all parts of Australia and particularly Victoria from November onwards, the mood has now changed somewhat, and the communication process has been reset to a sense of normalcy.
3. What has been a silver lining of Coronavirus, and something you think ACE will continue doing once the dust settles?
ACE Head Office has provided more than 40 online training sessions to our franchisees, nationally since April. All of these sessions have been recorded for future use and catalogued according to specific topics and relevant state or territory legislation. These recordings are an immense resource for new ACE franchisees as we induct them into the group.
We have also tested, and are now about to roll out a more powerful Learning Management System (LMS) to our franchisees. Not only will the LMS be a valuable resource of strata knowledge, but it will also encompass soft skill development for business owners, updates on OH&S/ WHS, staff upskilling, recruitment and the like.
We have looked at and tested various LMS’s in the past, and while the need was there, it was always put in the too hard basket. COVID forced us to accelerate many different areas of our business for the better, and I believe the outcome; post a consolidation period early next year, will result in a much more streamlined support offering to our franchisees.
4. What kept you sane during Melbourne’s extensive lockdown period, and what drove you a little mad?
I have two boys under 2, Harry (22 Months) and Ted (5 months) so the best part about working from home has been seeing them grow up before my eyes. I will never forget the time I have been able to spend with them, so I consider myself very fortunate for the opportunity this year.
Not spending time with my parents and affording them the same opportunity to spend time with their grandkids was definitely the hardest part.
5. Where was the first place you visited once lockdown measures eased in Melbourne?
The gym was high on the priority list after I realised that my work suit must have shrunk somehow…!
6. Where is the first overseas destination you’d love to travel once we are able to do so?
I would love to travel to Ireland one day. My folks still have family there, so I would like to explore with them.
7. Despite the unpredictability, what do you see ahead for ACE Body Corporate in 2021?
Significant growth potential, where we will welcome a number of new ACE franchisees nationally. ACE head office has made significant investments in resources and technology, and in the process, overhauled our induction training process for new franchisees, making it entirely accessible online. This now provides us with the capacity to scale.
Interestingly, in times of significant economic uncertainty, people tend to gravitate toward the safety of franchised businesses where they have an added security blanket of protection, rather than trying to survive on their own. We have an extremely strong pipeline of prospective franchisees that we are looking to capitalise on in the first half of 2021. Interest for an ACE franchise business has never been stronger, so we intend to selectively recruit the right people that will partner with us to grow the ACE brand nationally. ACE is very proud of being the only true national strata management company in Australia, with franchisees operating in every state and territory. The strata market continues to expand, and ACE wants to be at the forefront of securing that market share.