Q&A with Agrovista’s John Marland: In January last year Agrovista Amenity was officially launched at BTME in Harrogate, and it is safe to say that a global pandemic was unaccounted for. In this exclusive Q&A, Head of Amenity John Marland, offers an extraordinarily honest insight into how the newly formed Agrovista Amenity has fared throughout Covid-19.
It obviously was not the start you were expecting but what have the past twelve months been like?
In all honesty it has been challenging – you just cannot plan for a global pandemic. However, it has allowed us to accelerate the integration process between Agrovista and Maxwell Amenity, and has also enabled us to use the time to focus on the business and identify where improvements can be made.
We also completed a major project in which we launched AAMOS. This is a bespoke new online ordering system which allows staff to manage their accounts. Not only does it allow for better account management and can be accessed on any device including mobiles, but it is also offers a new and improved level of customer service. Ultimately, we are aiming to create an ordering process like the Amazon experience, in which the customer receives notifications and updates, including ETA for delivery, every step of the way. We are incredibly pleased that we have been able to implement this project.
How have the staff been able to assist their customers throughout this time?
We felt from the onset that Agrovista had to adopt a tone and policy that was apt for a global pandemic. We decided that all social media should be focussed on general communication rather than anything adversely commercial and all our salespeople were told to stand down.
In fact, we stood everyone down before the full government lockdown. It was also decided that we would only support customers on site if it were by prior arrangement and only at the request of the customer. I am pleased to say that no staff were furloughed. Everybody was fully employed, even if it were just to continue their learning and develop their skills through our online academy.
With many operations coming to a standstill, have you seen an increase in visitors to the online shop on Pitchcare.com?
Part of the rationale for acquiring Maxwell Amenity/Pitchcare was the online shop and, as you can imagine, the internet has become a safe and viable method to secure and purchase products during the pandemic. People were spending a lot more time in the garden or were at least appreciating green space and it is for these reasons that we did see an increase in online business. What I would say though, is that every upside comes with a downside and it put an enormous amount of pressure on the logistical side of the business. It was difficult because we were, and still are, operating in a Covid-19 secure manner, which meant people were working from home, there were restricted shift patterns and we had limited numbers on-site. I would say that it highlighted stress points in our business, and it enabled us to put certain positive measures in place to address those stress points.
Normally, the team would have been in an office together, and management would have been able to have face-to-face meetings with staff members. Has this had an impact and what have you put in place for allowing people to keep in touch with one another?
We have developed our ways of working and have instigated online team meetings where people can meet regularly and speak – and that does not necessarily have to be about work.
We have been very aware that this period has been testing for everybody and the welfare of our staff has of course been of the utmost importance. With this in mind, we have previously supported a mental health charity and we also have mental health ambassadors within the business so there were already structures in place. We want to encourage staff to always communicate and reach out.
I think you often learn a lot about your organisation in times of pressure and I am tremendously proud of this group of individuals within Agrovista Amenity and Agrovista as a whole. The frontline operation – the bigger business which supports food production in the UK, they had no choice but to stay open. As much as we can talk about managerial challenges, the people who have been working everyday throughout this have done the hard yards – and they are the ones who should be celebrated the most.
Before they were even cancelled, you were quick to pull out of many of the industry shows – can you let us know the thinking behind that? Furthermore, do you think that the industry has missed its trade shows?
First and foremost, the reason behind choosing not to attend any event was employee and customer safety. It was not in any way a snub to the organisations such as the GMA, BIGGA or the STRI – we are big supporters of them all. However, if I cannot guarantee the safety of our employees, then I would be failing in the role that I have.
Shows have been missed without question – they are landmark dates within the industry’s calendar, and we hope for a return to normality, sooner rather than later. The shows would have been an opportunity for us to inform everyone who we are, what we are doing and what we want to achieve. The lack of engagement, the face-to-face interaction and transfer of knowledge has been the biggest loss.
This time last year, you proudly claimed that the launch of Agrovista Amenity was a career highlight. Is this still the case and has the pandemic disrupted any plans that were in place?
Nothing has changed – it has been a highlight and a challenge. We still have such a long way to travel on this road, and I am still enthused by it all. The plans are all there, and yes, our progress has been slightly hampered by this, but we will continue to improve and continue to develop, not just in terms of the products we support, but in the way that we do it.
By that I mean in the way we take our independent view on science.
We do not have factories and are not tied to any one product or brand, so we can continue to look at the market and find ways that we can use all the manufacturers across the world. We have an incredible global reach to find new tools to aid our customers in what is becoming a more and more challenging environment.
We are in an exceptionally good position – the mechanisms we have in place are the reasons we must remain positive.
As an industry let’s make sure we all look after each other, keep each other safe, and let’s look forward to a brighter future.
For more information about Agrovista Amenity, visit www.agrovista.co.uk/amenity
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