Page last updated at 00:07 GMT, Friday, 20 February 2009

Small firms fighting the recession

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

January was a difficult month for BPL Solicitors, one of the 10 small firms that the BBC News website is following throughout the recession.

With the practice specialising in property law, it has been particularly affected by the downturn in the housing market.

Last month it told staff it will likely have to make some redundancies.

Yet other panel members say they are holding up well. Here are their reports for January.


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 - 8 out of 10. No change from December
Key current concern - Bank support for small businesses

"January provided us with a good start for advance bookings for the spring and summer months.

And January bookings were 46% up on last year, albeit from a fairly low base.

The weather is playing a big part at the moment, as people are waiting for an improvement. But I remain optimistic for UK holidays generally.

My concerns about the wider economy still remain though, and the government and Bank of England's reactions to events.

I cannot see how lowering interest rates any further is going to do any good, as credit still remains difficult and expensive, thus holding back any investment planning.

This is certainly the case for my business, and probably everyone else's as well."


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

Carl Bradley
Confidence in the business - 7 out of 10. Down from 8/10 in December
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.

For January our sales were down 2%, but our profits fell 30%.

And still no joy with banks lending anything at any rate.

All it is going to take is one bank to start lending and they will all follow or else lose out - especially if we all moved to that bank.

Business rates are also getting even tougher this year, and the VAT cut has not helped."


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 December
Key current concern - availability of mortgage products

"We are pleased to say that our marketing activities are beginning to bear fruit.

And control of overheads, due to the support of our staff, is being maintained.

Unfortunately however, while the increase in our market share in transactions is very encouraging, we have been told that one source of re-mortgage work has been lost, so we have had to start a new redundancy consultation for the staff employed in that area.

We can only take comfort in the fact that we were not over reliant on this source of work, whereas some of our competitors who have gone out of business in the past couple of weeks, clearly were."


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 out of 10. No change from December
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.

"January was better than expected, with more inquiries than usual for this time of year.

Sales have also been encouraging throughout the month from across the UK and Republic of Ireland.

I have been chatting with a few trade customers over the last few weeks, and have received mixed thoughts as to how the market is, and is going to be.

There seems to be a degree of optimism throughout the trade, and hopefully this will remain for the coming months.

Even inquires and sales in the US are encouraging considering the current economic climate over there.

While it is difficult to remain optimistic amid the bombardment of bad news from the media, there are 'green shoots' out there, and if the population was informed of some of the positive aspects in our economy, the black clouds might clear a little."


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 - 7 out of 10. No change from December
Key current concern - people's continuing spending power

"January was a settled month, with no external surprises to build into our day-to-day work.

Excavations for resurfacing and other general maintenance mean we are not at our best for visitors at this time of year, but, with this all finished, we are ready for the start of the season.

Much time has been spent looking at packaging and presentation, and our newest product will be available to the customer in March.

Interviews with our major customers have been positive, and sales both at the farm shop and off-farm have exceeded our expectations.

Our most immediate concern is still for our future sales."


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 out of 10. No change from December
Key current concern - the number of retail multiples closing

"Our sales in January were up 7% compared with the same month a year earlier.

In regard to the multiple retailers, we continue to find an extreme lack of expertise when it comes to their buying and product display.

Regarding the independent shops, which are still the backbone of the confectionary industry, they need to stay focused in regard of careful buying, and not attempt to venture into those products already catered for by the supermarkets."


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.

"Our present situation is not good, although there have been encouraging signs that the housing market is starting to slowly recover.

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

I have been very busy doing quotations non-stop since the beginning of the year, and it's starting to bear fruit.

With the amount of interest coming in, the outlook for the future is now far better than it had been.

The problem I have is that although the housing market has woken up, it's going to take two or three months before I see the benefit.

We are keeping busy, but not generating enough turnover to satisfy the bank, which is not the most patient.

We have been asked to do a forecast of the company, but at present that would be about as reliable as me forecasting the weather.

If the banks would relax a little and have more confidence in businesses like ours, then collectively we could help kick-start the economy."


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.

"January was a month of change for us, settling into our new offices and realising that we'd grown up as a business.

Leo White
Confidence in the business - 8 out of 10. No change from December
Key current concern - identifying and assessing new opportunities

Having spent four years helping other companies market themselves better, we've had to turn the focus on selling ourselves a little more.

Luckily we won a couple of good size web projects from the public sector, so work for the next two months is a little more secure.

Our public sector clients seem largely unaffected so far, as they try to spend budgets allocated last year. How much their budgets will be cut for the coming financial year is hard to tell just yet.

Smaller private companies have continued to tighten their belts. The number of leads has gone up, but we've noticed that we are getting more enquiries about our most cost effective website management solutions, as they allow clients to update their websites themselves and save some of the ongoing overheads.

There is also still a steady flow of businesses investigating e-commerce as an alternative to costly retail premises.

Print design work is where we've noticed a major drop in new business. It's hard to tell how much of this is due to the recession and how much is the ongoing shift from print to e-marketing.

Thanks to a flexibly skilled team we've avoided the need to make any redundancies to accommodate this shift, but every week we hear of bigger agencies who have laid off staff.

I strongly believe that businesses who don't see this recession as a chance to improve efficiency, and focus on selling their strengths, are missing an opportunity to be the one that can survive or succeed where others fail."


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 December
Key current concern - converting enquiries into ordes

"The recent annual leisure show at the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre, where we exhibited a show lodge, proved to be more successful than we anticipated during the current climate.

The level of enquiries and interest in our buildings was extremely positive, with encouraging feedback from business and private individuals alike.

A noticeable trend has been from people disillusioned with investment returns, who are considering second home investment at the top end of the leisure market where we are placed.

This option is a route to enjoy the funds and avoid potential loses when banked gains are negligible."


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 December
Key current concern - suppliers remain in business

"January was a better than expected for sales.

At the end of the month, my husband and I headed for the Middle East.

Our first stop was Bahrain to show Dentanurse product samples to interested parties, and then on to Oman to attend an international conference on Arabian horses.

We don't just talk horses at such events, and Dentanurse kit samples were shown to delegates from as far apart as Saudi Arabia and Bolivia, thus reducing the need to increase my carbon footprint in my efforts to seek further export orders.

We export to Europe, but feel that there is a worldwide market for our products. Devaluation of the pound will help us to forge new markets worldwide.

There was no evidence of recession in Bahrain, Oman or Qatar. However, people I met told me that Dubai was a different story, with building projects on hold, work permits being cancelled and the airport carparks full of abandoned cars.

I returned home to find that business was holding up well, and that we had an important new customer on board."

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Small firms fighting the downturn
11 Nov 08 |  Business

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