January 15, 2021

Lockdown learnings: Four small business owners share their tips for the retail community

Barclays has teamed up with four small business owners to offer words of wisdom as the nation’s latest lockdown measures once again test their operations.

A restaurant and takeaway technology company from Glasgow, a Yorkshire hairdressing business, a pet food supplier in Staffordshire and a small drinks company based out of a Herefordshire farm have all faced hardship over the past 12 months, but have adapted their business models in response to new challenges.

Here they share their key learnings and advice for peers in the retail sector, demonstrating the importance of the business and shopper communities when supporting small businesses through hardship.  

  1. Carolyn Mandache: “Engage your communities”

Time2Dine was set up with the aim of significantly improving the restaurant experience for people dining out, while working with restaurateurs to reduce waste and increase sales. During 2020, the business adjusted to lockdown measures by helping restaurants with takeaway orders for customers, reaching 100,000 users by the start of December – an increase of 1537% since April 2020.

“As we enter another lockdown, it will be more important to have short term goals, rather than long term planning, as things are changing all the time,” advises Carolyn Mandache, co-founder of Time2Dine. “This month, we’ll continue to support our clients at this challenging time and aim to get as many local restaurants and takeaways to know about us as possible.

“It means we’ll need to continue to make the most of our network, offering a variety of culinary experiences on our platform. During previous lockdowns we were able to help restaurant owners offer takeaways rather than close, when some had never done this before, so we’ll continue to invest in these relationships.

“Social media is now key to maximising networking opportunities. I used the Get Local offer from Barclays and Nextdoor during the pandemic, allowing me to post and host adverts for free on the community network. It’s been helpful when promoting our brand and what we do to our local area, and I advise other businesses to make the most of social networks when engaging new customers and keeping existing ones.”

  1. Dominic Jolivet: “Continue to innovate”

Pet Treats Wholesale Limited started trading in January 2012 and has 20 employees. Dominic Jolivet, the founder of the business, initially trained as a chef, influenced by his French father who supplied meals for 10 Downing Street and the Ministry of Defence in the ’60s. During the pandemic, the business took out a £150,000 CBILS loan from Barclays to help with the refurbishment of a new factory that would increase floor space by 40%, to allow for more product manufacturing.

“We supply natural treats for pets such as turkey and cranberry gourmet sticks, black pudding sticks and pork crunch,” says Jolivet. “We’ve seen sales rocket 65% when compared to this time last year, with online orders increasing 55%. It’s proven there’s certainly increased appetite for pet treats, with shops wanting to stock British-made products for shoppers, and many consumers coming straight to our website for the goods.

“I’ve always felt confident in my product and have continued to invest over the years to ensure that we can improve and expand our offer. The last 12 months have been hard for many industries, so my advice this year is to continue to take your time to innovate and think about how best you can improve and offer great products. If you get this right, then the money is likely to come later.

“At the beginning of June 2020, we bought a new factory, and the CBILS loan from Barclays gave us the cashflow in order to do so. We were bold with the investment, and the new premises will give us the means to grow our headcount, fulfil new supplier orders and keep money coming into the business. We’re looking forward to seeing what 2021 has in store for the business, and pet-mad Britain!”

  1. Marcello Moccia: “Be agile, resilient and imaginative”

Room97 Creative Hairdressing is an award-winning hairdressing enterprise, operating three salons and a training academy across Leeds and Wakefield. When the initial nationwide lockdown was announced in March 2020, all salons were forced to close for a then-unknown length of time. The business launched an online shop for the first time, and was able to pivot to ecommerce, seeing an 800% increase in sales of hair products, largely driven by social media engagement.

While Room 97 Creative Hairdressing suggests investment in its online enterprise was crucial, the business also urges small businesses to think about their talent pipeline.

“Through all of this, we have reminded ourselves to keep our heads down, stick to it and remember times will change,” says Marcello Moccia, owner of Room97. “Try to use every challenge as an opportunity – as a business owner I normally plan one or two years in advance, but recently it has been about planning one to two weeks in advance! As a result, we have become more agile and resilient, and imaginative in how we serve our customers.

“We all know the challenges everyone is facing, and our industry is no different. My advice is to remember to engage young talent and, where possible, give opportunities to those trying to start their careers. Our training academy is fundamental to what we do in this regard, and we have kept our apprenticeship programme open throughout. It’s a tough environment for so many right now so when you can help give someone a chance, it is more important than ever to do so. In return we’ve ensured a pipeline of talent in the business.”

  1. Jo Hilditch: “Explore consumer trends”

Recent Barclays research found one in seven people had never visited a farm shop prior to the pandemic, but now visit regularly. It discovered that two-thirds of consumers now look for more home-grown and seasonal produce as a result of the pandemic and Brexit.[1]

One business, White Heron, a drinks offshoot of Whittern Farms in Herefordshire, has been thriving off the behaviour change. White Heron produces a British Cassis from the farm’s blackcurrants, as well as British Framboise and its own Whittern Pink Gin. It saw online orders double over the course of 2020 as more and more shoppers look for quality homegrown produce.

“As physically going to shops is still a no-no, all our online outlets have been inundated with orders, so it’s been all hands-on deck,” says Jo Hilditch, MD of White Heron. “The warehouse has been so busy that many of my days have been spent bottling and packaging. It’s good to see how the work is at the coalface!

“Post-Brexit, it will be more important than ever to focus on our USP as a locally sourced, homegrown business in our marketing and to produce quality products with our own locally grown fruit. We’ll need to keep a close eye on costs and not get carried away with expansion plans that may be difficult and costly to execute.

“It’s encouraging that consumers are looking for more ways to shop locally and buy British produce, so we’ll continue to make the most of this growing demand.”

Barclays offers support to SMEs across the country and has a network of over 1000 relationship managers, who work closely with small business owners to keep them informed of the latest industry insights and help them to achieve their financial ambitions.