Covid-19 – the biggest threat most businesses will face? Certainly the one with the broadest and deepest impact on so many businesses at once, across so many sectors.
We brought together a cross section of entrepreneurs with a panel of five, an audience of about 40 FEO members and Jan Brumby and myself to referee. We found an exhilarating mix of energy and ideas, and examples of businesses not just surviving but thriving only months after they’d appeared to be heading for a cliff edge.
There were different levels of experience among our panellists, and they brought great diversity of activities.
It’s doubtful that any were hit harder than Ian White who, as owner of White’s Travel and Squash Travel, gave an introduction with real impact as he considered comparisons with 9/11 and the ash cloud.
That makes you think about the immediacy of the horror of seeing the twin towers ablaze, and about the death toll which was actually a tiny fraction of what the world is experiencing now. Also about how things might change in the future, and what people will come to accept as normal. Here we are, nearly 20 years after that great atrocity, still having to take our shoes off before we can get on a plane.
Ian’s problem was to do with no longer earning revenue and, even worse, about having to refund payments already received. But his message was upbeat and was all about being there.
He said: “By far the most important thing is to try not to cut too far. Every call has been taken and every email actioned and it’s been as tough as hell but we have been there when a lot of our competition, especially the online world, simply put up the shutters. The lessons learned were our best ever client gains and client retention happened after 9/11 and the ash cloud and I am almost certain the same will happen again.”
David Hall of Beverley Park Homes told us how he had just launched a new business, Oaks of Beverley, when the lockdown hit. But he found another entrepreneur within the company, a former apprentice, and together they cracked on with the new business and then another one, Minster Leisure Homes.
David said: “I took him out of school at 16 and I knew from the day I met him that he had something about him in spades. He’s gone from an apprentice on a moped to director of a company with staff working under him. To really drive the business it had to be his.”
Many expected Lloyd Atkin of BioD to be in pole position as a manufacturer of environmentally-healthy cleaning products but the collapse of the company’s supply chain was catastrophic.
Lloyd’s answer was to identify the real talent within the business and together they came up with a recovery plan which ensured a safe working environment for colleagues and, crucially, reinforced the supply chain to ensure security for the future.
Sally Wray of GoHire feared the worst as she stayed open but scaled things back with some staff furloughed, others working from home and Sally herself juggling home-schooling for three children and taking food to work for colleagues who couldn’t get out.
She told us how the April heatwave kickstarted the busy spell as demand suddenly rocketed from domestic customers paying cash as they did up their gardens. By June all the staff were back at work. September brought record turnover and in October Sally completed two big acquisitions – buying a going concern in Grimsby and snapping up a former social club which will be converted to create GoHire’s second depot in Hull.
Sally will share some of her tips for staying sane and growing her business in parts two and three.
Martin Shaw, Managing Director of D3 Office Group and leader of the FEO Growth programme, listened intently and then shared his own experience of furloughing around half his team of 50 operating across two sites.
Furniture suppliers stopped manufacturing and the workwear business collapsed but communication with customers continued and paid off as Martin and his team identified the products they really needed at such a difficult times. Surgical masks and disposable gloves brought in £4,000 between May and September 2019. Over the same period this year they generated £1.8m.
Equipped with a new-found knowledge about which of his staff are capable of brilliance, Martin is now exploring the likely shape of the office environment of the future. Fewer people at work, more people working from home, all of them in need of the ergonomic equipment which brings comfort and boosts productivity.
We found some fantastic, positive stories. What we saw, and what we like, is that people have picked up ideas and actions that they might be able to take to their own businesses.
There was great leadership in every case, a positive mental attitude, a positive mindset, the ability to develop people, finding people within who can help and communicating with people and keeping the team onside.
In part two we’ll look at what our entrepreneurs did to stay sane!