I will keep todays short and sweet, it would be fair to say that the negative effects of coronavirus are starting to show on our business more as the days go by, people have less money now, some have had their pay checks and spent a bit but a lot in the country haven’t had a penny and don’t know where the next lot of money will come from.
Also today we had 2 Police Officers from British Transport Police come to us for hand sanitiser as the they either aren’t being issued it at all or the stuff they are given isn’t even anti-bacterial, I didn’t have the heart to charge them not because I was being all nice and supporting our services (we are a business, not a charity) but because I think its horrendous that an individual in the Public Services has to go out and buy their own basic kit. I do hope going forward that BTP buy some kit off us.
We also made a face shield today using 1mm polycarb its pop studded onto a cap we have used a FlexFit Cap with pop studs, it’s an expensive way of making these masks however its built to last and be functional with a removable visor.
If you are sat at home think about buying some Polycarb in and making your own, ours you need certain tooling and the pop studs and we are using the expensive cap but it is something you can make quite easily yourselves. At times like this when supplies are low I encourage everyone to be making your own kit were ever you can.
This is now 3 solid weeks of the blog and as we go forward I will now write the blog once a week, so it will become a weekly blog, as the problems we face are repetitive it will hopefully make it more interesting to see the problems, effects and hopefully a few victories. Alongside this I will be putting in a few specials including how and why we started selling Coffee, Buckles and fabrics special, part 2,3,4 and probably 5 of the history of Contact Left, how and why we started manufacturing, a special on difficult customers we have faced (especially trade ones), we still need to have some of the staff do a blog on what its like working at Contact Left so hopefully I can get one of those on as well, so intermittently you will see the odd day pop up and I will share this on Facebook so please keep your eyes peeled. But I will keep the main blog going at least once a week.
Please can everyone who reads this keep sharing us around and if there is anything you think we should be selling let us know and if there is anything about Contact Left or anything I should write about let me know and I will do it.
Thanks very much for reading this and stay safe David
Day 20 and the change is coming for us in regards to peoples spending, as a nation online spending has gone up over the last couple of weeks and even though we have not seen a massive rise we have not done too badly. The last couple of days have been less than last month, when people weren’t in lockdown yet. You would have to imagine as the weeks go on there will be less sold online as there is less money, the one thing that there is no drop in yet is fabric and materials.
What happened today is we received negative feedback with the buyer stating that he wouldn’t have bought the item if he knew it was made in China. This will lead onto a very interesting future for everyone in regards to buying habits if they want to boycott China made items, right now China seems to be the only economy doing well out of COVID-19 with emails coming every day from Chinese manufacturers offering us goods. We don’t buy direct from China (Apart from one Airsoft Brand) but lots of the UK brands that we buy from have items made in China and if there is going to be less money around then people will have no option but to buy from China, there are lots of posts going around on social media saying boycott Chinese goods but where will it be made.
The manufacturing arm of Contact Left is called UK Outdoor Manufacturing (UKOM) and everything is 100% UK Manufactured and I would like nothing more than for everybody to turn to UK Manufactured goods but the government has not supported UK manufacturing over the past however many years and although Contact Left is the most politically neutral company out there, it would be fair to say that if UK Manufacturing is going to succeed to its full potential it would help if we had as close a possible ties to Europe. In fact not only Europe the world, I can only hope that as this is a global pandemic that maybe afterwards and it’s all sorted the world may work together better all round. Nobody can argue that there are bad practices in every country and bad people but this does not make a whole nation bad exactly the same as when one person from a specific religion does something wrong it does not make the whole religion bad.
I suppose the point of the above is that today we have seen our first ever negative feedback based on the fact that an item was made in China. We have been trading since 2006 and the buyer made the comment that they wouldn’t have bought the item if they knew it was made in China. It was a £20 pair of camouflage trousers retail, were could they be made if not China? Before I get loads of comments saying Thailand, Cambodia etc etc, UK distributors are mainly set up with goods being manufactured in China and you would struggle to get a half decent pair of trousers that you can retail at this price from anywhere outside of China.
What Contact Left will take from this as a business is we will seek to acquire goods from outside China and pass this feedback to our suppliers here. For all our customers reading this a hell of a lot our goods are made in Europe, the UK and elsewhere in the world but if you are going to boycott Chinese made goods you are going to spending a lot more for even the basic goods and some goods you won’t even get at all.
Thanks for reading please share this blog and this week I will keep you updated on the 10 pallets of Hand Sanitiser that are due in on Tuesday and hopefully we can fulfill all the orders so far (Fingers Crossed) Thanks David
Day 19 and unlike the last 2 Saturdays we have been working, when I say we, none of the full time staff have been in the unit however 2 students that work part time for us have opened up selected and packed all orders.
The interesting thing is neither of them has too, they won’t lose their jobs if they don’t come in today and neither would I say are desperate for the money.
Both students have worked for Contact Left since a young age doing weekend work and holidays etc. I don’t know if they read the blog but if they don’t need the money it’s one of 2 things, they are completely bored out of their skull at home or they feel they should be working as we are sending out so much stuff to the Police and those in the military. I haven’t asked the question and I am not going to either as I only really thought about it while I was writing this just now. Due to the first lot of hand sanitizer coming in last week and 10 pallets due in on Tuesday both myself and Sean have our work cut out to ensure we firstly get this in on Tuesday and then get it out to the Police, Care Homes, businesses and the general public who have bought it and having today off for both of us is help, both students will be in tomorrow as well and now I think about it, they have probably done 8 days straight come tomorrow and by Friday they will have done 13 days straight, in the past 3 weeks the only day they have had off is Saturdays.
I would NEVER EVER say that anything in the slightest is positive from COVID-19 but what is does show you is that everyone around me is stepping up, even writing this I feel like a bit of a fraud as I have been gardening, it’s like an escape from reality. Logging into the computer tonight brings me back to real life as we know it.
For those manufacturers that are reading this today I saw an Instagram post of a company making Face Masks using the Fidlock Hook 20 buckle on the back anyone out there who is making Face Masks or considering it have a look at the Fidlock Range, the magnetic technology makes it probably the most hygienic way of fastening a Face Mask on. I have been in communication with a manufacturer today that already had plans to use them (I wont give their name out, as I don’t want to be accused of favoritism) but they are a game changer. I haven’t seen anyone use an AustriAlpin one yet but the fashion model would look super cool on one.
Thanks again for everyone who reads and shares this blog, as a small business owner all I can ask is that you are showing the other businesses the same support as us. Many Thanks for everything David
Day 18 at Contact Left since the COVID-19 has started having an effect on us, as the days of uncertainty merge into one we continue to pick and pack orders with at least 50% of our staff off and turnover no worse than this time last year.
Its 2 weeks since a lot of businesses have either had to close or chose to close, we are affected by both the shops we supply and the suppliers who we buy from. Today I went with having the Sodapup Dog toys we distribute to pet shops being shipped to us by sea. I am not sure how long this will take but it will still cost a little more than airfreight would have cost us 5 weeks ago. The margins we make selling to trade is very small so we need to make sure that we get these items into us as cheap as possible and into the shops at the best possible price. For anyone that hasn’t seen the Sodapup toys, Google them and they are without a doubt the best dog toys on the market but if I can’t get them over here and into the shops it won’t do us or the brand much good.
The first load of the 500ml Hand Sanitiser turned up today and we fulfilled a few thousand bottles of orders, mainly the 50ml going to a new Police force we are supplying too and 80% of retail orders fulfilled. The fabric orders are increasing with more buckles and fabrics being sold than ever before; with the reduced staff Rob is still cutting materials after the post has picked up today. We are well aware that a lot of these materials will be used for orders for serving military and Police and unlike the previous 2 weeks we will have people in tomorrow to catch up with the backlog.
Normally nobody wants to work weekends but with the nightmare of staying at home coupled with were most of our products are destined for its no problem getting people to work right now, we will only have a skeleton staff in to ease some of the backlog though.
Sean has been working tirelessly as ever and the head of manufacturing smiles as I ask for samples of this or that while trying to make more masks in between confirmed orders and teaching other members of staff. Everyone is doing this under the constant worry of being at work and the possibility of catching coronavirus themselves, whether it be of one of us at work or a delivery driver or even one of the police that turn up. Also while I am bouncing about trying to generate orders or get stock in everyone else has the worry of if I don’t get the orders in, will they still have a job. Right at this minute there is no possibility of anyone losing their job long term even if more people have to be furloughed.
What we are doing now is working twice as hard to stay static, we are still getting and fulfilling orders to the Police and MoD and getting most of the materials out on time. Some trade orders we are struggling with but will catch up over the weekend and early next week. What gives me more hope than anything else is that if we are able to do this now with a depleted work force once we get out of this COVID-19 nightmare we should be able to build and grow even further.
Hope everybody has a pleasant Friday night I am going to crack open a beer, stay safe David
As we get onto day 17, you have read over 2 weeks’ worth of how COVID-19 is affecting us and without a doubt it’s very repetitive, the only thing that has helped us maintain sales is the help from the readers. So today for the hardcore that are still reading this I will give you an abridged version of how Contact Left started. As we come to the most difficult period in our trading history writing this will hopefully allow me to reflect before making decisions on moving forward. Hopefully it won’t bore you too much as even the abridged version is long.
I used to teach on Promotion courses while I was serving in the British Military, my primary trade was logistics however I had initially joined the Kings Regiment (Infantry) as a reservist for a couple of years and then after I passed basic training for the Logistic Corp in the Army I volunteered to go to a Commando Unit and passed Commando Training. During my time attached to the Royal Marines I spent over a year in Norway in total including carrying out Arctic Warfare Training (Mainly getting drunk) went on Jungle Warfare Training in Brunei, spent time in America, Holland, Jordan, Spain, France, Kenya and a few more. My main role even when attached to the Royal Marines was supplies though. When I went back to the regular Army I qualified in various areas like Skill At Arms (Weapon Handling) Instructor, Battlefield Casualty Instructor, Mountain Leader Training (civilian type) and a few others, I went on as many courses as possible and volunteered for everything, I was lucky enough to deploy operationally to Sierra Leone and Iraq. Anyway in my last few years I taught and assessed basic military skills on junior promotion courses for those in the Logistic Corp, what used to annoy me so much was guys and gals turning up on the courses without the correct kit, hardly anyone turned up with a model kit, for those none military, you use it to sort of create a picture before a task and then during the briefing you can explain to the troops using the Model were they are going and what they are going to do. I started making my own version and although I continued to make them with the students on the course I would also sell them to others in my regiment.
I had never heard of EBAY at this point but my mate Brendan Gallagher (another instructor) bought me a coat off EBAY and said to me “It’s great EBAY, you should sell your shit model kits on there”, so that’s exactly what I did. Everything was on auction in those days so I put 1 model kit on and day by day the price went up and it sold at £50 7 days later. I couldn’t believe it. I kept putting more on and they kept selling. As lads were leaving the Army I was buying the kit off them they had bought throughout their careers and listing it on EBAY, you would add the words SAS, PARA, Special Forces and Royal Marines to your listing and the price would go up 3 fold. I was also making and selling a whole range of items, in today’s modern world even back in 2006, time was more precious than money to people so rather than make it themselves they would buy from EBAY. I called myself COMMANDOKIT, this first 6 months was great everything I listed sold, as lads were leaving the Army they would turn up at my door with bags full of kit and I would give them £100 and sell it for 10 times that amount. One thing I was always very careful of was not selling issue kit. Many in the military soon started selling issue military kit and soon they were having the Police knock on their doors. I spent hours in Charity shops finding 1st edition military books and auctioning these, again some of them were selling for hundreds of pounds.
Very quickly a few things happened. firstly everyone in the military starting selling their surplus kit and the price they were selling for went down, if you had a Helly Hansen Military fleece that would have sold on ebay for £60, now about 5 people were selling it and you would be lucky to get £30 for it. As with all these second hand items you had to individually photograph them and if you were paying yourself by the hour you weren’t making any money. The other thing was that I was Full Time in the Army, Studying part time to become a lecturer and had a new baby that I only had a chance to see on a weekend, my internet access was limited living on camp with no internet apart from at the learning centre, my Mum (Marie) was posting stuff out and helping more and more as she had internet access.
So the game changer came when Marie and I decided to open a limited business we each put £1000 in and decided we would no longer sell any second hand items, just items we made ourselves and ones sourced from distributors and manufacturers in the UK. First we had to choose a name, we had been selling the Model Kits to Dragon Supplies but Gary had mentioned that the Paras didn’t like buying them with COMMANDOKIT written on the bottom of each one, this could be a problem going forward with any member of the armed forces that may not like Commando’s, so we chose Contact Left which is fairly neutral.
It can be a common belief around people that interact with Contact Left that Marie put up the money and I do the work, Marie still does all the accounts now, and when I talk to suppliers etc I will often say I will get my mum to pay, I think this may make people think that she is the bank, this is wrong and it’s also wrong when people think I did or do all the work. For the first six or seven years, Contact Left was stationed at Marie’s house and everything happened from here, posting, packing, listing, photography. I was in full time teaching at this point, so all I was doing was coming back of an evening and listing a few things or designing new survival kits. Marie built our first website from scratch, enrolled on Photoshop courses, took pictures, did most of the purchasing, researched items to sell, which keywords to use, which items to list and pack it all every single day. Marie is also still the main person who decides what we sell, what we can afford to buy, importantly who we sell to and on what platforms. Marie is currently self-isolating and right now this has a major negative effect on the running of CL at the moment. For the first 6 or 7 years neither Marie or myself took a penny out of the business and we just ploughed it all back in, we ended up with so much stock we needed a unit to put it in. That’s where it gets interesting.
I will leave it here and pick up from this point in part 2 in a couple of weeks or later in the week if there is nothing else to report. Big thanks to everyone who is reading this and if anyone needs anything send them are way or if there is something you think we should stock right now please let us know. Big thanks to all the messages we are getting aswell.
Stay Safe David
After the previous days of frenzy at Contact Left today seemed eerily quiet and although the general orders are still there it’s as if you can see the drop about to come. Most people will have still got a full wage last month and won’t be spending it on going out or leisure activities so they are still buying odd bits off us.
We have been starting a bit earlier the last few days to try and get through all the messages etc, I can’t think how long the shortage of staff will go on for but everyone who is in is doing fantastic. Rob who was off on leave for a few days last week is back in and is a god send, we retail and distribute various buckles and fabrics, the AustriAlpin Buckles and the Fidlock would be the most popular and those at home watching Netflix right now we supplied all the buckles for Lost in Space series and have supplied some buckles to all the Star Wars movies that have been made of the last couple of years. Going back to Rob, the latest Fidlock buckles we have got are all coded but they are so similar in design that it’s so easy to make a mistake but Rob has become a bit of an expert on these and we are lucky he is back as the fabrics and buckles are definatly still selling, more people are staying at home and are making their own products and hopefully one positive thing that is coming out of COVID-19 is that more people are sewing.
Some of the fashion belts out there are selling for £325 (ALYX Belt) and they are using what I would call copy buckles but you can buy an AustriAlpin or a Fidlock Buckle off us, 2 Triglides and a piece of webbing and you can make your own. A 40mm Width Fidlock Belt for example, you can make your own for under £10 and an AustriAlpin one for under £25. There is a lot of satisfaction in making your own product and with a belt you don’t even need a sewing machine.
Leading on from making your own kit and the satisfaction it gives I am not too sure the head of manufacturing would agree with that right now, the person I am talking about is an absolute genius when it comes to sewing and we have no shortage of orders in the manufacturing and without being arrogant this is due to the quality of the samples we have made. We currently have outstanding orders for Hats, Bags and Rucksacks for the Police, not to mention finishing off the slings. Today we picked up contracts for Handcuff Pouches, MP5 Mag Pouches and drop leg Medic Pouches again for the Police. The issue that COVID-19 presents here is new members of staff although very good at their jobs need to be shown how to make these, trying to teach someone how to sew something while ensuring social distancing takes place is not the easiest thing to do.
As I have been posting the Blogs later and later (This will actually be published on the 2nd) we are getting less views but the ones who are reading it are still putting us in touch with businesses and individuals that want our products. And was great to see an email come through for Sean, this evening asking about his printing work.
Anyone at home at the moment with any free time, have a look at the materials we sell and make something, we can do a video on how to make a super fashionable belt. Tomorrow I will write the blog on why and how we started selling are own branded Coffee.
Stay Safe David
The bedlam carries on at Contact Left today, although as I have mentioned on previous posts peoples buying habits have changed, the fact is they are still buying, we can not print the volume of air rifle targets that people want and although we hold good stocks we are now printing them to order. The printing arm at Contact Left is in 2 parts with a separate company owned by Sean who is the Manager at Contact Left and although he is solely in charge of the day today running of Contact Left he works mornings and evenings on SG Print and Design work. At 21 (Or 22) he has the stamina to do both. On a serious note if anyone needs any printing let him know he does all sorts from banners to business cards and has some really good contracts with restaurants and has done a lot of work for military units due to the cross over from Contact Left.
Back to the Bedlam of today, after the Police paid for the MoD order that was put in yesterday the MoD are on our backs again needing to know timings for when the items will arrive, needing to know whether they will need fork lift trucks to unload or whether the company delivering them will have them, It’s a bit new this to me, although civilian street tends to work quicker than what I remember while in the military it definatly doesn’t have the tenacity the MoD is applying here. I sent a screen shot at 1630hrs with details of the consignment but didn’t follow it with a phone call and by the time the MoD planner called me this evening we were unable to get in touch with the company delivering so not exactly sure what time it will be delivered tomorrow. It’s a school boy error on Contact Lefts behalf but one we will learn from.
I am not privy to any information at the moment but the way it looks is the MoD are deploying to different parts of the country, I would imagine to help with logistical tasks etc and I think we must have done an alright job so far as this afternoon we received another call from a different planner in a different area wanting the same product, nothing firm on this however when I was on the phone I mentioned we are selling the hand sanitiser and they ordered 2000 bottles straight away.
On the manufacturing side, the slings that we have been making for the Police are just about finished, I had a bit of a row with the head of manufacturing as I was sure I was right about a type of material, as normal I was wrong but sorted now. The manufacturing side is the safest area we have as right now people want UK manufactured products but with minimal staff it’s a nightmare for them to complete all tasks and with us short staffed elsewhere we cant move anyone in to help. So far we have about 5 outstanding Police products to make and we are still getting orders through from shops to stock the UKOM products.
The last day of the month is always good for sales and today was no different but I just cant help thinking this has got to stop, the money wont be there for people to spend to soon, it’s a false economy, I don’t believe we evolving quick enough and we cant until we get staff back that can help us, its not the type of job that you can just bring anyone in and they can do it, it takes months to learn how we operate and even now the lady who works from home is furloughed because it’s an impossibility to do the job while looking after a child, even with us supplying the Police and MoD the nursery the child attends has closed. So its just get on and cope with COVID-19 the best and safest way we can.
Thanks for reading David
So today was like the stock exchange (Not that I have ever been there) but it was calls from the Ministry of Defence Planners then the Military Liaison Officers were on our backs about whether we could supply the goods, after getting warehouses open and sorting the order the next was getting it paid for it, luckily we didn’t have to reply on the Military to pay, the Police picked up the tab on this one. One thing I can say is that over the past few weeks we have been dealing with multinational companies and today the MoD although we havnt had any game changing orders the interaction with these organisations has been great and fills small companies like ours with confidence.
The general work at Contact Left is still is a manner of disarray with over half the work force off now (thank fully no coronavirus), boxes and kit is moved round while we liaise with suppliers about who is and isn’t open and when they can dispatch. The military guys that are deploying around the country at the moment are buying all sorts of basic items from boot laces to bush hats and lots of rank slides and insignia.
Overall turnover is staying fairly on a par with previous years but the average selling price of an item is lower. Everyone at Contact Left are managing the work well and its still a case of evolve, evolve, evolve. We need to keep changing and adjusting as the world around us does.
Thanks very much for reading David
It seems like seconds ago that I was writing about the end of our busiest ever week on Friday and even though busiest it didn’t mean profitable as such but the wages were paid.
The unit opened at 0800hrs today for selecting the 2 days’ worth of orders and packing it all up, I spoke with a couple of companies that deal with military gear that may be able to help with the orders that are coming in that we don’t usually deal with
The main problem now at Contact Left is actually finding anything, last week and the week before we panic bought everything we could so the whole place is covered in boxes and it’s a struggle to find what we need. We have a 6000 square foot unit, half is supposed to be retail space for footfall customers but we never get many anyway and it’s just piled high with boxes and some rolls of fabric I bought a while ago.
If I was to plan for this week I would say that we will sort out all the boxes of stuff work on the stock management software, try and get listed some of the stuff that is not visible online.
We still want your ideas on any items that you think we should stock or make, the face masks are doing okay but due to half the staff being off there isn’t really anyone to reroll to make them so although they are listed online and selling we would struggle if we were to sell hundreds in a day. I still have one item that we have made from an idea that a reader of the blog has put forward we just need to fine tune this and advertise. Initially I thought on starting the blog sales would completely dry up as people would all be at home and not buying and we would struggle to keep staff employed, but although sales have slowed they haven’t completely dried up and staff are off anyway due to various reasons, thankfully no confirmed coronavirus cases.
I really don’t know what this week will bring to Contact Left but I will be surprised if its not interesting.
Take Care and Stay Safe David
After yesterday’s drunken blog I thought the today especially with the unit closed for selecting would be quieter however first thing this morning I am phoned by an MoD planner reference an item they would never buy from me normally but due to shops and others closing they need us to supply, I won’t say what the item is as to avoid everyone speculating on why the Ministry of Defence doesn’t have enough of them. Like everyone they depend on supply chains and no one ever saw this coming and definatly didn’t see everyone shutting down in a state of emergency. As long as we can get them on Monday morning the MoD will pay £24 instead of the standard RRP of £39.99, we are making a margin on these items but hopefully not fleecing them, COVID-19 aside, from a business point of view we want them to come back for more and more stuff. Its not about the quick buck, if Contact Left survives this COVID-19 if it wants to make the big money its need to be big orders at low margins.
Another reader of the blog has put a contact our way and they have just ordered 300 bottles of the 500ml hand sanitiser and may want to put a much order in, on Monday. I have never been that great at marketing but the blog is really paying off and a lot of customers are being referred to us by readers. Thanks for everyone who text me last night after I drunkenly put my phone number on.
So over the past 12 days peoples buying habits have changed, items like Air Rifle Pellets and Targets have grown massively along with water carriers, shemaghs. Also we are selling items that we have never normally sold online and this is due to other sellers that have temporarily closed their online businesses. What we expected to happen 2 weeks ago is happening a lot of items that were popular sellers have stopped completely, I won’t mention the brands as we sell a lot of niche products from small manufacturers and I don’t want to discredit those brands here. My belief is when this is all over those products will continue to sell again but the military right now has changed its role so the average military person isn’t going on promotion courses or exercises so they don’t need certain items like they used to. They do however need other items.
Over the next 3 to 4 weeks what will happen is online shops will start discounting more and more, take advantage of this everyone as the shops big and small need you to buy this stuff. Small businesses like ours have loads of stock that when things go slow we can offload you are not taking advantage we wouldn’t be selling it if we didn’t need the money. Certain brands that haven’t sold well when the going is good will be offloaded or maybe just certain items from that brand. It will stop becoming about profit margins and more about keeping jobs and paying the rent.
Thanks everyone for reading and share the life out of this, hope you all have a pleasant evening. Cheers David