Page last updated at 15:29 GMT, Sunday, 26 April 2009 16:29 UK

Small firms show their resilience

David, HotelierCarl, ShopkeeperMark, SolicitorJames, clockmakerLouisa, cider makerSteve, chocolatierHarry, joinerLeo, designerMike, Lodge-makerJenny, Dental goods maker

The official figures may show that the UK recession is worsening, but the 10 small firms that the BBC News website is following each month are continuing to prove their resilience.

While computer shop Fusion Systems has taken on more staff as it expands the business, St Maur Hotel is enjoying more visitors than the same time last year.

And dental producers manufacturer Dentanurse has had to work at full speed to meet orders.

Here are their latest monthly reports.


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. No change from February
Key current concern - bank support for small businesses

"What a busy month for us. March occupancy was well up on last year by 17% to 90%, so our marketing strategy has definitely worked.

We had a special offer running up to 27 March and this did draw in the extra business for us.

Advance bookings are now 20% up on last year, and I see no sign of interest slowing down.

I have always maintained that UK destinations would benefit this year, and certainly this is the case, not only for me, but the Isle of Wight generally.

And reading press articles this seems to be happening up and down the UK.

The weather has been really good for us as well which always helps, let's hope this can continue - we all need a little bit of sunshine.

I just hope that firms in the tourist sector can get the support we need from banks so that we can continue to reinvest in our businesses."


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

Carl Bradley
Confidence in the business - 8 out of 10. Up from 6/10 in February
Key current concern - hoping that branching out into new territory doesn't finish me off

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

"We broke even for March on last year, but had very little business trade compared to normal, which would have put us up.

A local electrical store has closed its doors after 40 years due to quarter rent payment shortage, so we are going to branch out and stock what they did, taking over their trade before someone else does.

We have also taken on staff from that store on a commission base only which seems to be working for them and us."


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 less than 40 employees.

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

"Our marketing activities continue to bear fruit, and the number of new cases that we have attracted exceeds what we would normally expect by way of seasonal upturn.

Being ahead of projections also seems to indicate that, as the Council of Mortgage Lenders figures on house prices for March suggested, there is increased activity in the housing market.

Hopefully the quantitative easing is beginning to work, and the banks are starting to feel more confident in their lending abilities.

I am not saying that our confidence rating is up to eight yet, but it is certainly a much stronger seven than it was three months ago."


James Stewart 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. Down from 9/10 in February
Key current concern - the economy doesn't recover enough before the end of the year, and that Christmas is a non-starter for retailers

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

"March was an up and down month, but overall it panned out OK.

I feel there are a lot of people having a wait and see approach before making purchases, and this trend is being passed down to the retail stockists.

However, we are still getting enough sales to keep things running smoothly, and the number of inquiries is encouraging.

We are now moving into the traditionally quieter time of year for us, and it will be interesting to see how things work out.

From talking with a few associates in the trade there seems to be a degree of hope and optimism, and a few feel that there are signs of green shoots appearing."


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 February
Key current concern - people's continuing spending power

"Spring lambs and calves, together with good weather, have made the farm lovely again, and we have seen a steadily increasing number of visitors.

Pruning of the apple trees, which began after Christmas, has come to an end now, as the buds begin to burst.

Farm shop sales have been about what we would expect at this time of year, and we still see enormous interest in local products of all kinds.

Our regular weekly calls to independent local traders for cider deliveries suggest that business in tourist destinations has been slow to get started, and that they remain slightly worried about the season ahead.

Sales to our larger trade customers have been maintained."


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.

Steve Valentine
Confidence in the business - 6 out of 10. No change from February
Key current concern - an increasing number of our major customers continue to go into receivership

It is based in Gwynedd in Wales.

The factory has 27 employees.

"Forward orders for Easter were well up, and optimism is very high from retailers.

If sunshine could be guaranteed then that alone could beat the recession.

Our major concern is an increasing number of our major customers continue to go into receivership.

Having said this, our company sales still continue to increase over 2008."


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 - 5 out of 10. Up from 4/10 in February
Key current concern - More support needed from banks and the government to support small firms

"There is movement in the housing market at long last, and work is looking up.

I just hope the banks begin to see that the market has started to move, and stop hounding firms like mine.

For example, to try and help the company I suspended my monthly dividends last month, and they charged me £35 for the privilege. How is that helping small businesses?

Small firms need help now so that we can battle through the recession, of which I am confident that I can. But at present we are battling the banks as well as 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.

Leo White
Confidence in the business - 8 out of 10. No change from February
Key current concern - improving efficiency, frustratingly slow speed of change with banks and suppliers

"Yet another good month with on target performance.

Our small team continues to show they can perform efficiently in challenging times, and all seem to understand the need to look after our clients really well.

We've noticed that small businesses are still choosing our low-cost design solutions both for print and web.

However, within the last two months we've also won our two largest contracts ever, both in the not-for-profit sector.

We are reinvesting all profits from these projects in improving our systems and software to increase our efficiency.

Major frustrations have been delays with service suppliers, especially the bank. Simply setting up our merchant accounts to take card payments has now taken three months.

One starts to wonder if the banks are capable of changing fast enough to really help and keep pace with their customers needs."


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 - 6 out of 10. Down from 7/10 in February
Key current concern - converting enquiries into orders

"Not much change since last month.

We are still concentrating all our efforts on pricing and pursuing sales.

The high level of enquiries is still very encouraging, but slow to convert into actual orders. Some customers appear to be waiting to see what's going to happen in the economy before committing.

In the rental market, holiday parks which we supply are positive about the number of bookings taken to date, with some full over Easter and expecting this to continue into the summer holiday season.

We are also still busy with 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 - 8.5 out of 10. Up 0.5 from February
Key current concern - appearance of the rates cuts small businesses were promised

"March was an excellent month for sales, and a member of the team jokingly commented that 'good job there is a recession on or we'd never keep up'.

We have been busy packaging and despatching orders to Germany, France and UK.

However, I had to stop all marketing work for several days to deal with a tax and national insurance issue.

Next job is more paper shuffling to bring everything up to date for our expensive but compulsory audit in 6 weeks time.

I am going to become a seriously grumpy old woman if I have to keep setting aside my company work to throw time and money at ticking official boxes'."

Print Sponsor

Small firms fighting the downturn
11 Nov 08 |  Business

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Sign in

BBC navigation

Copyright © 2020 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific