EFFECTS OF THE CORONAVIRUS ON A SMALL BUSINESS - DAY 17 (02/04/2020)
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