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Business Observer Saturday, May 2, 2020 1 year ago

Despite 90% sales drop, firm holds off on pay cuts, layoffs

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Squaremouth makes strong commitment to employees.

St. Petersburg based Squaremouth, which pioneered a comparison engine for travel insurance and built it into a $18 million business, is about to embark on what could be its biggest journey yet: maintaining full payroll of some 40 people for at least a year in the face of a 90% revenue drop — no layoffs or salary cuts.

Like most others in travel, Squaremouth has seen most of its business disappear during the coronavirus pandemic. One example: sales, which include the company’s own travel insurance product, Tin Leg, went from more than 500 a day to as little as 12, company officials say. “As soon as we saw the shift, we took cost-cutting steps that have allowed us to keep every member on staff at their full salary,” Chief Marketing Officer Megan Moncrief says in a statement.

Moncrief, in an interview, adds that Squaremouth is looking at all its expenses, from subscriptions to eliminating “anything frivolous.” The company will also tap into reserves to pay salaries, Moncrief says. It has applied for a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan, she adds, but the decision to keep a full staff at full pay was with or without those funds.

“We know the (travel) industry will come back,” Moncrief tells Coffee Talk, “and we want to be ready for it.”

While the move is counter to what hundreds of other businesses have been forced to do in terms of layoffs, furloughs and pay cuts, the commitment is true to Squaremouth’s ethos. This is a company, after all, that bought all its then-24 employees a new Apple Watch when the gadget came out in 2015. Other perks include unlimited paid vacation and a beer on your birthday.

Squaremouth might have another source of funds until the travel industry comes back and it adapts to new consumer habits to build back sales. That could come from the sale of its headquarters, a 20,000-square-foot, converted 60-year-old church building on Central Avenue. Moncrief says the sale — the building was recently listed for $3.9 million, nearly threefold what Squaremouth paid for it, $1.4 million, in early 2018 — was in the works before coronavirus. (The company, which maintains a traditional office in downtown St. Pete, invested some $600,000 in building renovations.)

Moncrief says the listing, instead, is recognition Squaremouth’s initial plans to build a call center and training facility there, in conjunction with fire poles and rope bridges, is no longer the right strategy. Employees, again going back to before the pandemic, she says, now crave flexibility and the ability to work remotely.

Wherever Squaremouth's employees work, Moncrief says with its latest commitment to keep everyone on the payroll, the company is delivering what it believes any employee wants: trust. “The best thing we did was we were completely upfront and transparent,” Moncrief says. “Employees want to know we are giving them a fighting chance.”

 

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