Effects of the Coronavirus on a small business (Contact Left Limited) Day 1 17/03/2020
PLEASE READ AND SHARE
I write this on the day I had to speak with all our staff about the possibilities of laying people off in the future and also about how I hope we can succeed. Probably the hardest thing I have had to do in my life and I have been on 2 operational tours with the military.
I intend to post updates every day and also give all staff a chance to honestly answer any questions you our customers have about the work they are doing to keep Contact Left on its feet and worries they may have, also I am asking you our customers what we can do to keep Contact Left afloat.
A brief explanation of Contact Left, we are a retail business that buy and sell various outdoor and military based products, this covers areas like bush craft, survival and camping. We also distribute items we bulk buy through CL Distribution to manufacturers and shops. On top of this we have a head designer and 2 machinists that manufacture sewn products like Dog Harnesses and Pouches for the Police and Military, everything 100% manufactured. It is very much a family run business and my partner has recently started working here, myself and my mum own it. Although a family run business I would sack my wife if she didn’t pull her weight (luckily for both of us she is very good J) I will mention family problems over the coming weeks especially if I go into isolation. As my blog goes on I will add more about the company as I don’t want to bore everybody too much right now.
Today started with sales not being too bad I know it’s coming though, as apart from one product that we will run out of today hardly anything is selling, on a normal day we will sell over 200 items retail. Right now we are probably 20% up on last year sales but it looks like that is all about to change.
0800 hours I had a Skype call with Fidlock one of the world’s best buckle manufacturers and coronavirus wasn’t discussed really it was more about strategies going forward, I will speak more about Fidlock over the weeks.
My walk to the office/shop alongside smoking 2 cigarettes is spent trying to squeeze 3 phone calls in to suppliers. First One no stock till May, Second one, 12 weeks delay, 3rd no answer. These are products that could have helped us buck the trend.
First thing is trying to rearrange the staff, we still have orders going out but I need to get the manufacturing area sorted as the one thing that we do have orders coming out of our ears for is manufactured products, we just don’t have enough skilled staff and can’t afford to train anyone. So one of the warehouse staff has do start doing as many jobs in there as possible while the apprentice selects the fabrics and buckles.
As this is going on it’s the normal barrage of phone calls and questions, I know in my head how much money we have and what we can afford to spend but I have to calculate what I think will sell at this Virus time, not just now but in the coming weeks. We need packing materials, not just one month but 2 months’ worth (what if the suppliers close down) a computer can’t predict what supplies we will need over the coming weeks and months (I am only guessing). We pay for just about everything upfront so I wouldn’t even know how to ask for a bank loan if we need it.
The manager has ensured the selecting of items has taken place and is ordering stock that we need, including phoning suppliers and asking them what selling well now, today the reply was Crossbows. We have an order from the Police for several thousand bottles of hand sanitiser, we got the order through making a smallish margin but I need to pay for it first and although the Police are fantastic payers they are on 30 days, so we will pay today or tomorrow and they will pay us 30 days after receiving the goods.
At this point with the worry I have about what’s going on I realise that apart from generally being ratty and stressed with everyone I have not spoken to the staff about the impacts that this may have on the business and their jobs.
I ask everyone to come to the packing room (Fairly big area) make a quick joke about social distancing and then explain that nobody knows what is going to happen with the effect of Coronavirus on sales but I am confident if we can adjust what we do and change maybe we can do well, we are an online seller and if we list more of the products we have we can make more sales, if people help out with the manufacturing it will speed up jobs. I explain that my Wife and I will take pay cuts and only take as much as is needed to keep our household running and my Mum (who does all the accounts and payments) will not take any wage if need be. What I am met with are members of staff telling me they will work for free and others saying that if anybody needs to go they will, I honestly at this point could have cried. Moving on from that I asked them all to think about what we can do going forward any ideas on products or anything else that they think we can do to generate sales. Questions come forward about what happens if staff have to self-isolate, hopefully if we can afford it, they can take paid leave, I am very hopeful this will be the case. It finishes with me asking everyone to work harder and more importantly work smarter.
The afternoon is spent dealing with invoices I haven’t paid yet, panic buying materials, finding out a quote on shipping for Sodapup dog toys we buy in from America has nearly doubled as the flight costs have gone up, we will have to get a sea freight quote now which will mean waiting longer for them to arrive by boat and we have already paid for the toys. The effect of the coronavirus is horrific, the pound is down, you only get 1.10 euros and just above 1.20 dollars in comparison with a month ago it’s a fair drop. Trying to make sample straps for Fire Engines that need rethinking, again I will mention more about the manufacturing over the coming weeks, if the head designer hasn’t killed me by then.
The day finishes meeting my business partner (Mum) who is over 70 and suffering a major illness so cant actually come into work for fear of catching anything, but has to try and make reason of what I think we should do and explain to me about what we can and can’t afford to do, do we buy 10 000 bottles of hand sanitiser that may take 3 weeks to arrive? Is this too much? Will we sell them? Christ will we still be here, we watch the prime ministers speech and although it all sounds good we don’t understand what we are entitled to or even how to claim it if we are entitled to anything in regards to business grants, and what is a government backed business loan with attractive terms??
A hundred other things have happened today but I won’t try and bore you anymore, for those who have read all the way to this point please let me know if you think it’s worth us posting a daily blog? Let us know what YOU think we can do as a company to keep afloat, what products you think we should be selling, should we be doing tutorials on sewing? Should we be doing demonstrations of kit? Do you want to know more about the problems we face running a small business? Would you like to have other members of Contact Left write the daily blog? If I can make this interesting it may get more followers and it can’t do us any harm and if you share this amongst your friends maybe they will follow? Maybe someone has that bit of advice for us that will keep us going? Any questions you have I will do my best to answer them.
Look forward to tomorrow and what the Coronavirus has in store for a small business like ours.
Thanks for reading and stay safe