Page last updated at 23:30 GMT, Monday, 23 March 2009

Small firms defying the recession

David, hotelierCarl, shopkeeperMark, solicitorJames, clock-maker#Louisa, cider-makerSteve, chocolatierHarry, joinerLeo, designerMike, lodge-makerJenny, dental goods maker

February has been a month of quiet growth for most of the members of the BBC's small business panel.

As we continue to follow them each month through the recession, they seem be more than holding up at present.

Of the 10 companies, three said they were fairing better than in January, while five said they had seen no change. Only two said conditions had worsened.


David Groocock runs the St Maur Hotel on the Isle of Wight (IOW), which has an annual turnover of £200,000 and employs six people.

He is a member of the local chamber of commerce and the chairman of the IOW tourist board.

David Groocock
Confidence in the business - 9 out of 10. Up from 8/10 in January
Key current concern - Bank support for small businesses

"After the cold start to February, which slowed bookings and enquiries down, I am pleased to say that with the arrival of the spring-like weather came a very robust upturn.

The level of enquiries and bookings have been more than I anticipated.

Our marketing of our special offers have really hit the spot, and as they say "cash flow is king2.

So February's occupancy came in 4% up on last year, and advance bookings are now riding at 18.5% up on this time last year.

I have always maintained that UK destinations were going to benefit from the present economic situation, and it looks as if this will be the case.

My concerns are still about the way banks are treating business customers, and that they are not offering the government's Enterprise Finance Guarantee scheme.

This issue will not go away and needs to be enforced or this country will lose many small businesses and more jobs.

However, for my particular business I remain confident."


Carl Bradley runs a computer shop with his wife in Eastbourne, East Sussex.

Carl Bradley
Confidence in the business - 6 out of 10. Down from 7/10 in January
Key current concern - keeping suppliers happy so I don't lose my credit terms

He employs three people and the business has an annual turnover of £540,000.

"February was very quiet - £18,000 down on last year.

We need to put prices up, but fear that trade will stop all together.

My bank has been very understanding and helpful, but still can't lend at the moment.

We need to take on more staff, but with the way things are we will just have to plod on hope it pick up so we can."


Mark Stimson is a director at BPL Solicitors in Dorchester, Dorset, which specialises in property law.

The firm has an annual turnover of £2.5m and there are just under 40 employees.

Mark Stimson
Confidence in the business - 7 out of 10. No change from January
Key current concern - availability of mortgage products

"Where is the lending going to come from and when will it start?

Despite pledges from Northern Rock and RBS to increase availability, it is just a drop in the current ocean.

The need for the government to make speedy progress with its plans to introduce the guarantee scheme for mortgage-backed securities as announced in the pre-Budget report is becoming more urgent day-by-day.

If we can get a higher proportion of buyer enquiries in the property market converted to sales, then we are very confident that we can start to scale up the size of our operation again."


James makes and sells high-end grandfather and grandmother clocks in Armagh, Northern Ireland.

He employs five people and the clock-making company has an annual turnover of £180,000.

James Stewart
Confidence in the business - 9 out of 10. Up from 8/10 in January
Key current concern - pessimism taking over and creating a climate where an economic recovery is delayed

The clocks retail from £1,660 to £10,000.

"February has been a really great month.

Orders are up on the same month last year throughout the British Isles.

Retail customers have been restocking after Christmas, and we have had good trade at our showroom also. We have started a new apprentice, which seems to be bucking the current trend.

Exports are slightly down on last year, even with favourable currency exchange rates, but we have had quite a few new international inquiries.

Again, despite the doom and gloom we are very positive and hopeful for the months ahead.

We have noticed recently a move in sales from our very expensive top end models to our more mid priced range clocks. We feel this is more of a fashion trend than anything to do with price.

The summer months are generally a quieter time for us, but maybe this year with fewer people going afar on holiday we might find sales holding well during this period."


Louisa Sheppy runs Sheppy's Cider, a family-owned Somerset cider-maker, with her husband David.

It now supplies most supermarkets in the South West, and some nationally, but remains a small producer in the wider cider industry.

Louisa Sheppy
Confidence in the business - 8 out of 10. No change from January
Key current concern - people's continuing spending power

"February has been a month of gently increasing trade as we start to leave winter behind.

Good weather is always helpful for our product, and recent half-term sunshine has brought out increasing numbers of visitors to the farm.

It's the time of year when we start to get ready for annual quality standard audits, which now seem to be numerous, covering primary production on the farm and cider production especially.

This can be a very time-consuming job, but the advantage is that our customers can be assured of the high standard of our products and practices.

The subject of alcohol consumption and misuse seem to be in the news again lately, with Scotland looking at a minimum retail value for a unit of alcohol.

While we think it entirely appropriate that some form of action be taken, there is a danger that a broad brush approach could damage particular sectors of the alcohol market whilst not having a great impact on the problem itself.

As an example, limiting alcohol display space in retail outlets has been one suggestion which, we fear, would have a disastrous impact on lesser known products, like ours, which may not be visible to the customer.

We shall watch with great interest."


Steve Valentine runs a confectionery factory that produces a range of chocolate and fudge products, as well as rock and sweets sourced from the local area.

It is based in Gwynedd in Wales.

The factory has 27 employees.

Steve Valentine
Confidence in the business - 6 out of 10. Down from 8/10 in January
Key current concern - the number of retail multiples closing

"Our sales for February were up 5% compared to the same month in 2008.

But trying to insure funds owed to us by number of the major multiples is proving to be difficult, and more often than not impossible.

Definitely a time to try and grow the core of the business with the independent trade."


Harry Murray runs a manufacturing company that makes wooden staircases and other architectural features in Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire.

Now employing 22 people, HMS Joinery has an annual turnover of £1.7m.

Harry Murray
Confidence in the business - 4 out of 10. Up from 3/10 in January
Key current concern - More support needed from banks and the government to support small firms

"February showed a slight improvement in the housing sector.

There are encouraging signs that the house builders are starting to build slowly again, which is a step in the right direction.

The government needs to do more to help the housing market because it is the backbone of the economy.

When somebody buys a house they have to buy carpets, furniture, curtains, electrical items etc, all things which help keep people in other sectors employed.

The banks remain impossible and inconsiderate to approach."


Leo White runs a design company in Cumbria. He employs five people and has an annual turnover of £250,000.

He deals a lot with small start-up companies and has about 120 clients on his books.

Leo White
Confidence in the business - 8 out of 10. No change from January
Key current concern - increasing efficiency and maximising turnover before our financial year end.

"Looking back at January and February, we've had our best couple of months for sales in the history of the company.

I'm still unsure as to whether this is related our own marketing work or just good timing.

However, it has helped us feel a little more confident about the future.

Conversely it has increased the pressure on production staff.

We've recruited one additional programmer but are also making better use of our freelance associates and suppliers.

Our focus continues to be on achieving greater production efficiency so we can keep costs down for our clients.

"I'm reluctant to grow the Cumbrian production team much further, but feel that using our Oxfordshire office space more effectively could help us grow without taking on additional overheads."


Mike Grant runs a residential and commercial timber lodge manufacturer in Perth in central Scotland.

There are 21 people employed in the company, which has an annual turnover of £2m and produces about 30 lodges a year.

Mike Grant
Confidence in the business - 7 out of 10. No change from January
Key current concern - converting enquiries into orders

"Over the last few months we have concentrated on pricing and actively pursuing sales, more than we have ever done in the past.

We are now beginning to see the benefits of this effort trickling through, as customers are now coming back to open discussions with a view to securing their orders.

I think this is a good indication that business is going to pick up, albeit very gradual.

We have also had an increase in existing customers requesting upgrades, alterations and extensions to existing buildings.

Island Leisure is also promoting after sales products which can be purchased by anyone, regardless of which manufacturer they purchased their lodge from."


Jenny Lees produces dental products for dentists and the public from her base in Preston-on-Wye, Herefordshire.

She employs five people at the company, which has an annual turnover of between £300,000 and £400,000.

Jenny Lees
Confidence in the business - 8 out of 10. No change from January
Key current concern - slow payment by larger companies

"Sales in February remained buoyant, and we are still on target for our projected turnover this financial year.

We continue to explore export markets for our products whilst the pound is weak against most other currencies.

During February we have increased our exports, especially to the eurozone.

As it is the time of the year for "spring cleaning" we have been looking inwards to see where we can tidy up on expenditures.

Amongst other things, Dentanurse is checking the value for money of all the insurances we have to carry as a small business.

We are also looking to our local council to reduce the burden of business rates as promised by Mr Brown.

My bank manager remains in our good books after we hit a short term cash flow glitch, over a 48-hour period, which is now resolved.

Our problem was caused by major customers taking a long time to pay when we are obliged to pay our suppliers promptly.

The German system, whereby small firms by law are paid on time by larger companies, should be introduced into Britain, this would go some way to ending the credit crunch in Britain by 'oiling the wheels of trade'."

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Small firms fighting the downturn
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