Celebrating success: Staying afloat and sailing steady after weathering a storm of pandemic proportions

It is very rare to get a second chance in life, let alone in business. Yet after nearly losing everything one year ago, Auckland charter boat operator Mal Maclean has surged back with a vengeance, with his business, Ocean Groove Cruises, having recently been awarded a Bronze Qualmark in recognition of their sustainability efforts, while also gaining a TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice 2022 award. Not only is this a testament to Mal’s devotion to maintaining the high level of service the business has built its reputation on, but also an exclamation point to how the team at Ocean Groove Cruises never gave up. Mal’s recent success is a fantastic reminder of how persistence and resourcefulness can pay off in the long run. 

When Mal first launched Ocean Groove Cruises in October 2020, formally known as The Luv Boat, he had no idea what was in store for his new business. The business had just been rebranded and launched after a significant period of planning and development. They had also recently hired new crew members who were excited to be part of this new venture.   Mal couldn't have imagined that, just six months later, he would be facing his biggest ever challenge, when New Zealand went into national lockdown – and revenue for his newly rebranded business suddenly ground to a halt. 

For Mal and the crew at Ocean Groove Cruises, the pandemic meant fewer bookings than usual - far fewer bookings. In fact, after the pandemic began, bookings initially dropped by 70%. But despite the challenges that came with operating during such turbulent times, Mal and his team were determined not to give up on their dream of providing an unforgettable experience on their charter boat around Auckland Harbour. It didn't take long for Mal to realise that if he wanted to keep the business afloat, he would need to make some changes - and fast.  

Focussing on what you can control in times of uncertainty 

Mal decided to focus on what he could control: his business’ own performance. He looked at ways the operation could be improved, so that when people did come back out from their homes, they would actually have something to come back to.  

Mal started by examining the business’ current operations and focussing on potential areas for improvement. He decided to streamline the booking system process by eliminating some steps, automating others, and making sure that all his team was equipped with cloud technology that would allow them to do more with less effort - all while still providing an enjoyable experience for customers, past and present. 

Mal also reviewed in greater detail his standard operating procedures, health and safety, staff wellbeing and business planning.  

Despite making these changes, there was no avoiding the financial pressures that came during COVID-19. With the future looking uncertain, Mal needed guidance on how to best manage the business’ finances and ensure that Ocean Groove Cruises’ long-term viability was maintained. 

Strong financial management key to long-term viability 

Mal turned to BDO Partner Scott Kennedy for assistance with financial management strategies to help safeguard the business.  

“Scott and the team provided exceptional support throughout our business operations, particularly so during the really difficult times we faced during COVID-19,” explains Mal. “There was no sugar coating matters. Scott was able to present the facts with realistic financial forecasts, showing exactly what I needed to know and helping me decide exactly what was needed to be done to get us through this. And we did, and now we are proudly achieving greater sales than ever before." 

As time went on and Mal’s improvements became reality, business started picking up again - not just because people were coming back out of lockdowns; it was also because they had a new appreciation for the work Mal had done behind-the-scenes. His dedication to improving performance across key business components did not go unnoticed by Tourism New Zealand, who accredited Ocean Groove Cruises with the Bronze Qualmark in November for their ability to meet the 40 factors listed in the Qualmark Sustainable Business Criteria. In addition, the fantastic feedback from customers led to being awarded a 2022 Travellers Choice Award by TripAdvisor.  

For Ocean Groove Cruises, they weathered the storm of pandemic proportions, and they came out of it with a boatload of experience and improved operations - that certainly shine through their service offerings.  

For tips on financial management as we continue to face uncertain times for business, contact your local BDO adviser.