Page last updated at 22:19 GMT, Wednesday, 15 July 2009 23:19 UK

Small firms defying the recession

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

June was another solid month for the 10 small firms that the BBC News Website is following throughout 2009.

The UK may still be in recession, but the 10 companies are proving as resilient as ever.

Hotelier David Groocock says he is on track for one of his "best years", and confectioner Steve Valentine has had to take on extra staff to deal with an increase in orders.


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 May
Key current concern - only the usual over the state of the economy

"June proved to be another good month for us, and the weather really helped. Occupancy was 97%, up 14.5% on June 2008.

This is really good, and advance bookings are still showing 20% up on 2008. This will level off as time goes on, but we are on course for one of our best years.

If there are any concerns, it would be the school holidays period - the traditional six weeks from the end of July through August.

This is slower than usual, and there are lots of tempting offers for holidays abroad to compete against. But if the weather holds up I reckon we will come good as usual."


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

Carl Bradley
Confidence in the business - 8 out of 10. No change from May
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.

"June was a good-ish month for us, down just a bit from the same month last year.

We spent £1,000 on advertising to test the water. We have had no response yet, but maybe it's a bit too early, so we will try again in a month or two.

We also finally got an account with Samsung. This took forever - it was like they didn't need the trade.

I believe the economy is on the brink of recovery, but unless more is done now we will just slip backwards.

I think cutting the interest rates on credit cards would really help and get things moving."


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

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

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

"The sustained recovery of the property sector is still some way off, so we don't see that the market in general is likely to get us back to where we want to be for the foreseeable future.

"We are hopeful that some major marketing initiatives will start to bear fruit in the near future."


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. No change from May
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.

"June has been reasonable for us, with just a slight drop in sales from the previous month.

The summer months are typically quiet for us, with people thinking of their holidays rather than home furnishings.

This has been marked by a slow down in inquiries from our retail customers in the UK and Republic of Ireland.

However we do notice at this time of year, as people visit the British Isles from abroad, they see our product in various retailers and this plants the seed for international sales down the line.

Also we find that individuals from abroad, who have previously hit on our website and are holidaying in Ireland, pay us a visit at our workshop.

We have noticed that there has been a lull in the economic pessimism in the media.

We feel there is a vibe that as we approach the last quarter of the year there will be enough confidence to lift retail figures higher than those of the same period last year.

After the company's July break we will be preparing for the autumn months which kick off our busiest time of year."


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 May
Key current concern - people's continuing spending power

"June included three days in Spain for my husband David who, with Henry of Aspalls Cyder, did his best to represent British cider abroad at the Sicer convention.

This international gathering of cider-makers, from as far afield as Mexico and Argentina, was an opportunity for national cider industries to promote themselves, and for Spain in particular to show off its substantial cider industry to the wider world. It was all work, of course...

On the farm, David has been very pleased to sell two young Longhorn bulls for breeding, and guided tours have got underway again, with a slightly reluctant vintage Fergie tractor.

The month ended on a high note, with a win for our Oak Matured Vintage Somerset Cider in the Quality Drink Awards 2009. We were delighted to be chosen for this prestigious prize.

Sales have remained positive at the farm and further afield with some promotional activity, but feeling some uncertainty about the longer outlook."


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 - 8 out of 10. No change from May
Key current concern - government not doing enough to help small firms

It is based in Gwynedd in Wales.

"Sales during June were again well up on 2008, which has restored a lot of confidence back into our customers.

As a result we have taken on extra staff to cope with the summer season.

While there is a positive outlook from the majority of our customers, it is still apparent that they are not confident about Christmas trade this year."


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 - 6 out of 10. No change from May
Key current concern - More support needed from banks and the government to support small firms

"Every month seems as scary as the last in the housing market, especially for manufacturers like myself.

We had a visit from the bank at the end of June regarding the path we are going down.

Giving it an accurate forecast is always very difficult, but after several very rewarding meetings with large housing companies I feel very confident about our future.

The bank was very sympathetic and understanding of the situation we are currently in, which isn't of our making, rather related to the recession.

One of the problems facing manufactures is the heightened competition. Even though a lot of companies aren't surviving the recession, the price war is horrendous.

With prices falling, coupled with trying to get people to pay up, you do get to the point when you ask yourself is it all worth it? The stress and worry can be a killer."


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 May
Key current concern - offering a wide range of services for both large and small clients

"After a quiet few months, we've had a few calls recently from new start-ups, looking for low cost e-commerce websites.

There is a long standing debate in the web design industry around offering free services.

We've always been clear about needing to charge commercial businesses to ensure quality and reliability of our business.

So it's especially good to see clients coming to us having been let down or stung by free services that can't operate sustainably, or conversely overpriced services from firms who got greedy when things were good.

"Sustainable is a word we've used in our business plan for years, but it now seems more applicable than ever."


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

Mike Grant
Confidence in the business - 7 out of 10. No change from May
Key current concern - maintaining the current level of wok into the autumn

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

"With the current level of new enquiry remaining consistently high, this has prompted us to take on a sales executive to handle this side of the business.

After interviewing several candidates were are pleased to have secured the services of Jamie Kirk who is well known and respected within the industry."


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 May
Key current concern - government empty promises

"Sales in June were good and a little ahead of the same month last year.

We had a special delivery mid-June, when my son and daughter-in-law, who both work for the firm, produced a daughter. We'll soon get her trained up and on the payroll.

Talking to friends within the dental profession, it seems that dentistry has not suffered any downward trend at all during this recession, and this continues to be reflected in Dentanurse's trading figures."

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