Every business has had its challenges this year, especially in March and April. Here is Kytons story of 2020 – of managing a pandemic in the busiest four weeks of the year and throughout the long year, changing how we operated on almost a daily basis and how things are definitely looking up as we enter 2021.

It is nearly ten months since the first of the Covid-19 restrictions came into effect and I thought I’d look back at what it was like to navigate Kytons busiest time of the year (Easter) while dealing with the daily changes that Covid rules and restrictions brought to what is already a chaotic time and how the year has progressed since then. Everyone has had challenges in the last year – whether that has been running a small or large business in a pandemic, schooling their kids at home or dealing with the loneliness of being locked down alone for weeks, or in the case of Melbournians, months alone. Everyone has a story – but I thought I’d share ours with you.

For anyone who has ever dealt with Kytons in the lead up to Easter – you probably know that we are frantic, especially in the two weeks before Easter. Kytons hot cross buns are an important part of so many South Australians Easter celebrations and that income is important to support our business in the quieter months after Easter. So it was not great having the concern of having that turnover slashed dramatically or gone altogether – the thoughts about what that would mean for the business’ future and the future of your staff’s jobs weighs heavy on your conscious. Plus there was the added concern about the health and wellbeing of our staff, our customers and our families. Despite long days, sleep was not my friend and these fears loomed big.

We soon learned that “Pivot” was the word of the month in March and April. As directives from the government changed from day to day, so did our business model.

The first thing to change was to put away our chairs and tables and shut the physical doors of our shop at Edwardstown. But we didn’t stop trading! Fortunately, our building has two lovely sliding windows at the front and these became our customers access to our shop for over six weeks.  I literally came to work one morning and Darren (my husband and business partner) had completely rearranged the fridges and cupboards in the shop so that they could all be seen from the windows. We moved the EFTPOS machines, used our previous outside tables in front of the windows to socially distance our staff from the windows and the customers and we were away. Our windows even made it to Channel 7 News just before Easter along with our chalk “hot cross bun” markings for socially distancing while our customers waited in line!

The next big challenge was what was going to happen to our income. Kytons sells hot cross buns through community fundraising drives, independent supermarkets, to cafes and the like (food service), to businesses for staff morning teas and direct to the public through our store, online and usually a couple of days in Rundle Mall in the lead up to Easter. If you play Covid Bingo you’ve probably just worked out which of those sectors survived and thrived and which didn’t. We were incredibly lucky that supermarkets remained buoyant during this time (okay a little panicked at times even) and our customers continue to visit our store in droves (although we did a lot of customers prepaying and our staff dropping their orders into the boots of their cars to stay contactless). Our Rundle Mall stall was put on hold again (the last time we were supposed to be in RM was the day of the hills bushfires at Christmas!) but our online sales boomed. Online had only ever been a tiny part of our business, but that changed overnight. Hundreds of people ordered their buns this way and we saw a lot of couriers coming and going. Plus, we started selling flour and yeast in our shop and this brought people from all over Adelaide to our windows. In just ten days we sold over three tonne of flour and 600 packets of yeast – and most of those people bought hot cross buns too – a totally unexpected boom in sales.

Food service sales were gone, but once again we pivoted to save some of the corporate and fundraising sector. Another surprise for me when I arrived at work one morning was a “Happy Pack” sitting on the bench – a handled paper bag with a “Happy Easter” sticker on the outside and buns inside – a bright idea quickly turned into reality by Darren and our Marketing Manager, Emma. These “Happy Packs” were an individual gift businesses could send to their staff’s homes rather than the big trays we traditionally sell for shared morning teas in a business setting. We sold hundreds and hundreds of these bags as corporate and business clients spread the love amongst their employees working from home – more couriers!!

Fundraising was always going to be challenging. Easter is by far our busiest time of the year for our fundraising business – and nearly all of those sales are in the two weeks before Easter. But sporting clubs had closed down, schools were unsure how long they would remain open and there were no social clubs at empty workplaces. So we pivoted again. We rang or texted every customer who had booked in for a fundraiser – offering to turn around their fundraisers in a couple of days rather than the usual week to counter uncertainty, to bring their bookings forward or just to check that they were okay. In the end about half of our fundraising orders were cancelled but half remained and we were touched by how much people were willing to do to keep their drives and to help us out. We had many people who said “our group has closed down, but I’m just going to drive around and deliver the orders to everyone houses” and others who rearranged delivery dates to keep supporting us and their school or group. And those that cancelled were so very apologetic – and many have come back and done winter or Christmas drives in the last two terms instead (although some of those Christmas ones were then affected by the November restrictions on some group!). We felt very loved.

And there was our wonderful staff. Of course at the height of the pandemic here in SA, our biggest fear was one of our staff getting sick – the impact that would have on the other staff and the impact that would have on the business as everyone went into isolation. So we split our night time baking shift with our day time admin and baking staff – with an hour gap between when they were in the building each day and in that time Darren would run around the bakehouse cleaning every surface possible to quarantine the shifts and reduce any chance of the whole staff being quarantined. And our staff just kept on working the crazy hours that Easter brings.

Darren and I continued to work the long hours we usually work at this time of the year, doing the usual Easter tasks, but also trying to keep up with the extra cleaning, the ever changing Covid rules and trying to look forward to how we would manage the business after Easter. A few days before JobKeeper (JK) was introduced we had a sobering conversation about what would happen to our staff after the Easter rush and it wasn’t going to be pretty. The three or four months after Easter are already the quiet time of the year for Kytons and there wasn’t going to be much work around for our staff. The introduction of JK was a major blessing to our business and our staff. While the system was far from perfect, it meant we could support our staff through some very tricky months and still have them ready to go as things improved on the other side. I’ve had similar  conversations with many many other SA business owners in recent months about how needed and useful JK was.

So as we closed our “windows” on Easter Thursday we had no idea how long lockdown was going to last and we had no plans to reopen our shop front. But in the two weeks of the April school holidays, SA’s case numbers made a turn for the better, the government announced school would return on time and Castle Plaza started to have people in it again. We decided we would reopen our shopfront again – trading through the windows again until the weather became a bit too cold for that method. As winter deepened we rearranged the shop design again – making the counter a “u” shape so we could access everything for our customers and reduce touch points.

2020 was challenging and at times quite scary (especially with the unexpected and fast lockdown in November when all seemed to be tracking so nicely), but our sales gradually returned to normal – with cafes and restaurants in SA trading again and many groups and schools finding Kytons fundraising to be one they could easily run. Another change we made for Covid was that we started packing not just one big order for fundraisers to split into their smaller orders, but  packing those individual orders too. This means groups have not had to gather together volunteers to do this job and they’ve found their orders have been bigger than normal (no other fundraising going on) and the process easier. Packing the orders was a change we never thought we’d make, but one that has proved to be very popular and successful and one that will stay as part of our business model into 2021.

The Royal Adelaide Show is usually a big part of our year and after 13 straight years, there was no Show to go to, so once again, we came up with an alternative – home delivered lamington showbags! Bags were ordered online and over 100 lamington show bags were dropped from Gawler to Aldinga over what would have been the Thursday and Friday of the Show. Many were delivered as surprise gifts, purchased by our customers, and it was so much fun seeing the joy of receiving 4 or 5 packs of lamingtons on the faces of the lucky recipients. I drove over 250km over the two days making deliveries with one of my teenage kids doing the drops and other family members and staff helped too.

Christmas proved to be a very very busy season for us too. Fundraising has still been really popular as groups looked to find an easy, almost contactless way, to raise money, consumer sentiment is geared towards “Buy Local” like never before in supermarkets and our retail store (and we finally had a pop-up stall in Rundle Mall for two days) and even food service to restaurants and cafes was busy as restrictions  loosened and they recover from “the pause”. Our bakehouse was full of both our permanent baking staff and a tribe of uni and school students baking loads of products to help make our customers’ Christmas special.

It has been a long, tiring and challenging year, but we have been backed by a loyal, hardworking Kytons team and the blessing of living in one of the safest places in the world right now with some very very loyal customers and staff. We are grateful for all these things and hopeful that 2021 will bring less surprises and more opportunities to celebrate being South Australian.

Sharon Sutton – General Manager and Co-Owner of Kytons Bakery

Images at the top – The “Window” and socially distancing hot cross bun chalk, Happy Packs, Royal Show Home Delivered Lamington Show Bags