COVID-19: Our plans for the future

2020, our 25th anniversary, hasn’t exactly gone to plan!

Having weathered a number of storms during the past quarter of a century, including the financial crash and the shock of 9/11, we thought we’d seen it all. Obviously not. Without question, the scale and speed of the current economic collapse, which has befallen many businesses, are frankly difficult to comprehend. But for most life goes on, and we like everyone else will find a way through.

It’s inevitable that during 25 years of trading, some of our choices were good and some not so good. Some ideas worked, some did not. All businesses have problems from time to time. You probably won’t find that in your ‘how to run a business’ textbook, but as anyone who has actually done it will tell you, it is true. You try stuff and learn.

One of the things we’ve undoubtedly got right is our obsession with keeping our costs low. We never went in for old-school status symbols. Another is strict adherence to a very simple rule – we don’t do anything for nothing. We are a business, we are here to make money. You buy it for one and sell it for two. Maybe that’s why we’ve outlasted Lehman Brothers, Woolworths, Thomas Cook, Carillion and Flybe.

We’ve also been very enthusiastic about the use of technology. As a micro-business, technology provides us with an opportunity to punch well above our weight. We can do more, faster and for less than many of our larger competitors. In theory, our entire business could be run from an iWatch – although the little screen would drive me crazy!

So it seems the trick is to be super-lean and adaptable. If you’re not, something like COVID-19 is going to expose your weaknesses very quickly.

The climate change emergency will outlast COVID-19. Together, they will reshape supply chains, and geopolitics more broadly, forever. Our industry, like many, has been addicted to low-cost products imported from countries many thousands of miles away. That is going to change.

We are preparing to make ‘country of origin’ much more visible to our clients. In fact, not only do we plan to tell you where the product is from originally, but also where its been in terms of central warehousing and branding. You may be surprised just how many miles the average product clocks up! Logistics companies, who cannot show that they offset the carbon they create, face an uncertain future. Some cities will soon ban diesel vehicles altogether. The rules of the game are changing.

Product pricing is likely to become more fluid than we have all been used. Budgeting during a period of inflation, created by shifting supply chains, will be new to many. Looking for somewhere to invest your fortune, try a highly automated local manufacturing business! The new products we add to our range, from here on in, will reflect a move towards ‘localisation’.

Like many companies, we subscribe to a growing number of digital services, for example, cloud-based CRM. Over the past few years, the number of services we pay to use has risen, as have the prices we pay to use them which is mainly due to the weakening £Pound. Some are essential, but we’ve identified a few which could be replaced by expanding the back-end of our own web site. This means a short term investment in development to achieve a long term saving. This will also allow us to create a better experience for our customers with some really useful new services available behind a client login. There’s some cool stuff coming for our loyal customers!

It seems that during the COVID-19 emergency, we are not allowed to mention the ‘B’ word – Brexit. But, just to remind you that the U.K. is due to leave the European Union, with or without a trade deal, in just a few months time. So, if our Government is to be believed, British business must survive COVID-19 and then immediately adapt to being removed from the largest trading block in the world. Let’s hope all the free-trade deals we’ve been promised are ready to go in time!

And finally, you will notice that we haven’t been trying to sell you hand sanitiser and face masks – we’re currently getting between 10-20 emails a day! Many overseas suppliers are supplementing their income by offering products they don’t usually supply. Do they have the correct product certification or accreditation? How do you know the paperwork is genuine? Do they even understand what they are selling? A word of warning, a proportion of what’s being offered is probably not what it purports to be. Be careful what you buy and who you buy it from.

See you on the other side!

Jonathan Lee, Managing Director


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