Page last updated at 00:00 GMT, Thursday, 18 December 2008

Small firms battling the downturn

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

The BBC News website is tracking 10 small businesses from across the UK to see how they are being affected by the economic downturn.

Over the coming months we will be revisiting them at regular intervals to see how they are getting on.


Louisa Sheppy runs Sheppy's Cider, a family-owned Somerset cider-maker.

Louisa Sheppy
Confidence in the business - 8/10
Key current concern - people's continuing spending power

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

"We remain confident in the business and the marketplace for cider in the immediate future.

But do have concerns about how people's spending power will affect our product sales from early 2009.

We are also watching with concerned interest the government's stance on management of alcohol sales - to prevent public order offences and under-age drinking - using duty increases and possible statutory price structuring."


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 300,000-400,000.

Jenny Lees
Confidence in the business - 8/10
Key current concern - suppliers remain in business

"Things did seem to go a little quiet on the order front around the time the chancellor was going to make his pre-Budget report, but I think that was just a coincidence.

A flurry of orders since has put our figures back on target.

My key concern is that my own suppliers remain in business, as many of our products are made by UK firms who hold our tooling.

It has always been our policy to support UK businesses. I only purchase from abroad when I cannot get the product supplied or made for us in the UK.

It has been proved a good policy now that the exchange rate is so poor."


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 - 7/10
Key current concern - Bank support for small businesses

"We have now closed until 9 January, and it gives me time to reflect on the past year and the effect the economic climate is having on my business.

It is odd really, because up to the end of October we were trading extremely well.

Although the early part of 2008 was down on previous years, we did manage to make it back up.

But then the doom and gloom of the economic situation seemed to completely get everyone down, and consequently November was 23% down on the same month last year.

But towards the end of the month some confidence seemed to be returning, so I think 2009 should be a good year for UK holidays in general for lots of reasons."


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

Fusion Systems shop
Confidence in the business - 5/10
Key current concern - my banks are pressuring me to make more money or I will lose my services or the rate that I pay will go up

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

"Trade has slowed right down.

And the more the government does, the worse it gets.

As soon as it was leaked that VAT was going to be cut, the flow of customers slowed by 60%.

Now that the VAT has been cut trade is back to normal, but still down for time of year.

The only thing I want cut is business rates - the amount I pay a month would pay for two extra full-time staff."


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 - 6/10
Key current concern - banks' refusal to increase lending levels

"Our campaign of direct marketing to intermediaries has proved a success.

We are also making headway into our move to diversify into different products.

Nevertheless, our practice, being based on the property market, is continuing to suffer from the worst effects of the credit crunch.

If only the banks would take heed of the government's exhortations to get back into lending, or the government would act to implement the Crosby report in a more timely fashion, or, if necessary, intervene to force the banks to lend.

If that was the case, we might start to see an increase in activity in the market that would give us some light at the end of the tunnel."


Leo White runs a design company in Cumbria.

He employs five people and has an annual turnover of 250,000.

Leo White
Confidence in the business - 8/10
Key current concern - recruitment of quality staff

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

"Things are still looking reasonably positive for us with the lead up to Christmas, as client businesses are pushing to get the most out of their online marketing.

We've noticed a slight trend for clients to leave decision making later, and choose our lower budget solutions rather than bigger long-term investments for the future.

The pre-Budget report caused mixed feelings - apart from the inconvenience to make sure we handle VAT correctly, there seems to be little immediate effect either way on companies such us ourselves who deal business to business and make relatively modest profits.

All we can hope is that the VAT cut stimulates consumer confidence.

Longer term we're still confident that we are in good shape to ride out a recession.

We're putting more emphasis on our freelance network so we can be more selective with our recruitment.

We still have jobs on offer but are struggling to find the quality of candidates we require."


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

Employing 25 people, HMS Joinery has an annual turnover of 1.7m.

Harry Murray
Confidence in the business - 5/10
Key current concern - More support needed from banks and the government to support small firms

"Things have not improved, in fact they have probably deteriorated somewhat since we last spoke.

The banks are still being as stringent as ever, and as helpful as a concrete parachute.

The housing market has improved slightly, and one of my major housebuilders sold seven homes this week and six last week.

The media is sapping everybody's confidence, and people are frightened to spend what money they have, especially at this time of year.

It's my personal opinion that the housing market will start to pick up at Easter time, not as we knew it last year, but a gradual growth.

The biggest problem is getting there."


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 - 8/10
Key current concern - currency fluctuations

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

"Business has been reasonable considering the current climate.

Our sales for November are only slightly down on last November, but then last November and December we had bumper sales on the run up to Christmas.

International enquiries have slightly declined, but the home market seems to be fairly bouyant for us and we are still expecting a rush on the run up to Christmas.

Even with the downturn in the economy we are finding that our more expensive clocks are as popular as ever.

Unlike a lot of goods, high quality clocks like ours hold their value and long term are a sound investment."


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 - 8/10
Key current concern - the number of retail multiples closing

"Up to now we have been very busy running up to Christmas.

In addition to the last minute Christmas orders from small independent stores, we have been preparing ourselves for Easter.

Business during December has been very good and we have taken on three more staff.

We are confident that our new products for 2009 will be successful at the trade shows early in the New Year."


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 - 7/10
Key current concern - maintaining continuity of current programme and catering to the changing market

"Recently we have received notice on some of our forward orders being delayed or reduced in size.

The commercial lodges for holiday letting businesses looks like a stronger option for our production programme, as holiday park owners report strong bookings for 2009, indicating holidays in the UK should be good next year.

How they finance these purchases will, of course, be an issue if banks keep too tight a hold of funding, regardless of use.

Confidence in our product for the second home purchaser is still active at the higher/bespoke end, with those with disposable funds, even if this is on a reduced scale to that of recent years."

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Small firms fighting the downturn
11 Nov 08 |  Business

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