Staff Flexibility in a Recession

Hi, it’s Victor Cheng from and author of the book The Recession-Proof Business. Today, I want to talk to you about staff flexibility. One of the things I’ve emphasized a lot in my videos is the desire and need to adapt and be flexible as the market and economy change quite significantly. And one of the areas where [flexibility] is very useful is around staff — having them be more flexible and the kinds of things they can do to contribute value to the business. And so, I’ll give you two quick examples, one personal, one local. I mentioned in one of my prior videos that the premier restaurant in fine dining, the elite restaurant, in Seattle is known as Canlis. It’s owned by a person named Mark Canlis and his brother, I believe. That’s the restaurant where it’s somewhere like $500 per person for dinner, including wine and tip and all that kind of stuff. So, it’s very elite fine dining.

He closed the whole restaurant down at the start of this particular coronavirus-based economy and instead created a drive-thru restaurant: drive-thru coffee in the morning, drive through lunchboxes for lunch, and then a dinner delivery service in the evenings. It is completely unfathomable that he would take, essentially, the elite restaurant wait staff — it’s the premier wait staff, where you can earn incredible amounts of money waiting tables in that restaurant — and he’s turned them into cashiers for a drive-thru restaurant. He’s turned them into delivery people for delivering dinners to customers. And that’s a great example of staff flexibility. You figure out what the market wants, you adapt and alter your business to match that market demand, and, ideally, repurpose your employees to what’s going to be useful in that particular environment based on what customers really, really want.

Second example… I actually lied. I’m going to give you three examples. The second example is, here in the United States we have a lot of cars and cars need to be maintained, and there’s a company called Jiffy Lube. It is basically sort of a drive-thru. Drop off your car for 30 minutes, and they will change the oil and change all the various fluids your engine needs in order to run properly.

In a down market and a down recession, people try to put that off as long as they can, “Well, I could probably get away with another a couple of 100 miles, a couple of 100 kilometers before I have to change the oil.” So, what happened was a lot of the mechanics didn’t have enough cars to work on. And so, I was talking to the manager of my local Jiffy Lube, and he’s a turnaround specialist. And so, he goes into a Jiffy Lube location, there’s several hundred in the United States, and within 60 to 90 days of him working at the location, he improved sales by 35% on average. I’m like, “Whoa, okay. How do you do that?” And so, he had a really simple technique. It was just simple. It was brilliant. When the mechanics did not have a car to work on, he had them stand on the street, holding a sign that said, “Get your oil changed now. No line. No waiting.” He turned them into salespeople.

Now, a typical mechanic would be like, “Well, that’s not my job. That’s not my role.” But, guess what? When you’re in a recession, roles have to change because the market demand has shifted. And, if you don’t shift to where the demand is now, you go out of business. That’s how it works. So, the key idea here is to pay attention and be a student of market demand. Notice where it has shifted from and where it has shifted to. Remember, in a down market, spending drops a little, but the spending patterns change a lot. So, you need to be ahead of the curve or at least react very quickly to changes in spending patterns in your industry. And if you’re in a place where they’re no longer spending, don’t waste time wondering where the money went. It’s not there. You have to figure out where the money went and go there instead.

So, to quote Wayne Gretzky, the great ice hockey player — I’m not a hockey fan, but I like his quote — the secret to his success was not to skate to where the puck was but to skate to where the puck would be by the time he got there. And that’s what you need to do in your business. Where did the market demand go? If it’s not what you’re selling, I promise you it went somewhere else, and you have to go figure out where that is and see if you can solve that problem that people are now willing to pay money to solve.

So, that’s my tip and thought for today. Good luck in your businesses. Stay tuned for other videos on how to thrive during these difficult and challenging and uncertain economic times. Thanks, and have a great day.

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