Today’s story is from Jo and Richard Bailiff from aim2drive a local Gooseberry Hill based driving school. Their business was effectively put on hold when the Department of Transport terminated all driving tests. Jo and Richard take us through their journey and explain how they adapted, survived, learned many a lesson and are now back in full swing with business busier than ever. One great takeaway is how important is was to “do the right thing” by customers and those customers now even more committed to the business.
“2020… What a year! If I was to approach my former self in 2019 with the news to cancel business planning, put everything on hold, lockdown is approaching and buckle up… I wouldn’t have believed it. I remember earlier in the year as the COVID news was unravelling, becoming more and more intimidating, I, like many others was definitely in denial. Convinced our lovely Perth Hills and Foothills community wouldn’t be affected. It didn’t take long before the stress kicked in, the worry of family, friends, those who are high risk (my dad), those who are overseas and of course our lovely customers and our livelihood, our business. Attached to the stress was always an element of guilt, knowing there was always someone worse off. Another job loss, another business closure, very scary times ahead.
The fear and uncertainty instantly brought many cancellations of both driving lessons and tests. We had to adapt quickly. My dad, Kevin (one of our instructors) ticked the high risk boxes with his age and asthma, the decision was made for him to stay at home and not conduct lessons. We wavered the cancellation policy and urged customers to cancel if they showed any signs of ill health or had been in contact with anyone overseas. It was decided upon to also keep lessons local and only do one on one training (no parents/supervisor driver in the car. Staying up to date with the government decisions and communicating with the Department of Transport (DoT) became part of our daily routine. Lots of information and changes in decisions were thrown around and it was decided we could stay open and essential workers could still sit their driving test. We introduced a COVID hub on our website and social media, keeping our students as up to date as we could, making it clear what we could and couldn’t do. A strict health and hygiene regime was put in place, as well as putting time aside between every lesson and test to thoroughly clean the cars (Thanks Replenish for your advice and supplies).
What did this mean for the rest of our learners? Each of our pupils have a plan in place with our instructors and invest in lessons whilst working towards their end goal, their driving test. The pin was pulled and all tests were cancelled with no news of when they could re-book. I said earlier, there was always someone worse off, our business didn’t close but we also didn’t have an end goal or any certainty our business would survive on this basis. We had no future government advice, our access was denied by the DoT online booking system and like most, our business hours decreased. Our 2019 business planning went out the window, our new Gooseberry Hill Office with public access never opened the doors and the idea of taking on an additional instructor was a distant memory.
Thankfully, our business did survive COVID. In the end it created let’s say, a business detour, a bumpy detour. We consistently have over 200+ pupils on our books, the proportion of these who were essential workers and classed as priority were small and we still had to fight for their test. The bigger portion of our students were still waiting for tests and driving schools unfortunately weren’t given priority to re-book. Accommodating our locals and keeping up with the bookings was overwhelming, I had the instructors in the office on the computers booking tests, when they should have been in their cars. But we got there and are still without a doubt are dealing with a backlog but the detour is ending and there are positives.
The positives… Firstly, we didn’t close. We adapted and incurred business loss but we still operated. The local support was, as always, incredible. The loyalty and trust received was what kept us going and we couldn’t be more grateful. Right now, we are the busiest we have ever been, with a wait list in place, we are still accommodating those who were on hold during COVID. The office is now open at 2 Watsonia Road, Gooseberry Hill and yes, we have put out an expression of interest for an additional automatic instructor. Whilst our business is now at full speed, there are others who aren’t, there is always someone worse off. Please have patience, please hold each other up and please support LOCAL.”Jo and Richard Bailiff (Owners of aim2drive).