02/12/2020 - 19:30

RISE: Sneakers & Jeans big on staff

02/12/2020 - 19:30


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From driving employee wellness initiatives to retaining staff during COVID-19, hospitality business Sneakers & Jeans has been named employer of the year at the 2020 RISE Awards.

RISE: Sneakers & Jeans big on staff
Andy Freeman has quickly grown Sneakers & Jeans' portfolio of Perth hospitality venues, with 100 staff on its books. Photo: Gabriel Oliveira

From driving employee wellness initiatives to retaining staff during COVID-19, hospitality business Sneakers & Jeans has been named employer of the year at the 2020 RISE Awards.

Sneakers & Jeans founder Andy Freeman was priming his business for growth at the start of 2020.

Mr Freeman had spent the previous seven years building up the Sneakers & Jeans portfolio of venues across Perth city from one to five (and more planned), quickly becoming one of the CBD’s most established group venue operators.  

Venues under the Sneakers & Jeans brand comprise The Flour Factory, Varnish on King, the renowned skull-clad Caballitos, Hadiqa, and Goody Two’s, with construction under way at the group’s latest venue: a three-level Pirate Life Perth brewery on Murray Street in the CBD.

Rapid growth had presented many operational challenges for the business, which it sought to overcome by investing heavily in its team, particularly people who could support and manage the areas the founding staff was least experienced in, such as finance.

Leading up to 2020, the group had also invested its digital channels, booking and reporting systems, with 100 people on its payroll.

Then COVID-19 hit, threatening to halt Sneakers & Jeans’ trajectory and belting the state’s hospitality industry.

Bars and restaurants across Western Australia were temporarily closed to cater to social distancing restrictions and government-enforced lockdown periods.

But the shuttering of venue doors did not mean Sneakers & Jeans was closed for business.

While the realisation that any single bar may not do well was always at the back of Mr Freeman’s mind, the thought of all five potentially falling over was not an option.

Sneakers & Jeans sprang into action, first clearing all creditors, making arrangements with landlords and seeking bank loans for each venue as a ‘just in case’, staying in regular contact with staff and customers.

That move was strengthened by a strategy that included the foresight to cease all unnecessary spending, and a rewrite of menus to use existing cool rooms’ stock, enabling the business to pivot more seamlessly to the drop in trade.

Weekly newsletters were sent to all 100 staff, featuring suggestions of what to eat, what to watch on Netflix, and updates from Sneakers & Jeans directors, with staff given the option to engage in weekly group exercise sessions.

Hospitality is not a trade that can easily transition to a working from home model, yet Sneakers & Jeans prevailed, catering to takeaway trade and starting its own labelled sanitiser bottles, while also using some of the downtime to work on future events including the Melbourne Cup and New Year’s Eve.

These tasks were undertaken while navigating the complications of limited available staff, with only salaried staff and a few casuals eligible for JobKeeper; the general manager even stepping in to do the dishes.

Once restrictions were eased, the business continued its tight management, backed by daily finance and operations meetings so any changes were swift and decisive.

It was this strategic planning and flexible decision making that played an important role in Sneakers & Jeans not requiring any bank assistance.

Besides surviving financially, Sneakers & Jeans managed to retain all staff this year, largely thanks to its open and honest lines of communication, underpinned by an existing supportive team culture.

That culture has been enhanced by its own employee wellness program, which involves Sneakers & Jeans funding non-alcohol related monthly team activities including surfing classes and meditation courses.

For excellence in people management, workforce motivation, recruitment and retention strategies, Sneakers & Jeans received a Business News RISE Employer of the Year Award.


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