Date posted: 08/11/2022

How the Single-O finance team turned disruption into success

Learn how your skills as a Chartered Accountant can aid business transformation and create future-ready organisations.

When COVID-19 hit, it took two Chartered Accountants all their skills to transform the Single-O coffee business. From eCommerce to subscription models, the finance team were key to keeping Single-O alive.  

Chief Financial Officer Wade Clarke CA and Financial controller Serena Munroe CA came to Single-O to scale the business just before COVID-19 hit in 2020. It was terrible timing, but creative thinking and solid skills were on their side. 

“A lot of companies were thinking, ‘You know what? We'll just go into hibernation and shut down’. We were determined to not only keep operating, but actually grow the business during that period," Wade said.

In their respective roles, Wade and Serena quickly got to work by seeking a detailed understanding of the business so they could make clear decisions and communicate them to the board to grow Single-O.

Cash reserves were a critical priority. With the company importing green beans from overseas in US Dollars, Serena kept a close eye on foreign exchange rates and supply chains to manage an ever-changing cash flow.

“Building cash reserves - from a treasury point of view, that was super important to ensure that the company had effective cash flows through a time of uncertainty.”

“We pivoted our business model from a sort of traditional wholesale business-to-business business model into an online model. So, our business grew from an online point of view, 900% within a 12-month period.”

Serena Munroe CA

Be where your customers are

The next action they undertook to transform the business was reshaping the business strategy by moving to an ecommerce platform and introducing a subscription consumer model. The finance team developed a new operating model and financial infrastructure to quickly fulfil a huge growth in volume of coffee orders.

“We pivoted our business model from a traditional wholesale business-to-business model to an online model. So, our business grew from an online point of view, 900% within a 12-month period,” Wade said.

As the business transitioned to ecommerce, Wade said they needed to better understand the changing needs of their customer base to make informed business decisions and acquire new customers. 

With more people working from home and consuming coffee from there, they grew the business by investing in sales and providing a strategy, which led to double digit growth in a short period of time.

“The finance team was really pivotal to that, to be able to provide that information, that data and the insights so the business could act quickly,’’ Wade said.  

A key initiative for Single-O was their ‘Kickback’ program, which during pandemic shutdowns shared up to 30% of nominated online sales with cafés and restaurants, in the form of free coffee. Patrons could get great coffee at home, but also nominate their local café to receive in-kind support.

Using data to inform decisions

By having a thorough understanding of the data, and reporting key metrics from the ecommerce platform on a weekly basis to the business, Wade and Serena could make strategic recommendations to scale Single-O.

“It's really understanding what are you trying to achieve from the data? How can you extract what you need to extract and what insights and actions do you want from that data?”

Serena said Excel modelling skills were particularly valuable when it came to scenario modelling and viability studies in a changing environment when trying to transform a company.

“You're doing the business partnering, the scenario modelling, feasibility studies and analysing the data,” Serena said.

Adaptable accounting skills 

Single-O successfully transitioned to an online operating model and grew its wholesale business during a time of significant uncertainty. Accounting skills provided a valuable foundation for both Wade and Serena in enabling the business to act decisively, from Excel modelling and financial budgeting to data analysis and future forecasting. 

According to Wade, while you may have a strategy, business context was always changing and evolving. He said it’s important to understand the changes happening and to know where to find the right information to inform good decisions. 

“Change can be really uncomfortable, and people cope with change in all different ways. So, it's about really providing a framework where you are comfortable with change and knowing you can adapt to change.” 

Looking for more inspiration? 

Find out how author and founder of ANISE Consulting Heather Smith FCA is transforming the accounting industry using technology.

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