Page last updated at 00:07 GMT, Friday, 27 November 2009

Solid month's work for small firms

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

October was generally another solid month for the 10 small companies the BBC is following throughout 2009.

All of the retail firms reported a rise in sales.

The two firms directly connected to the housing market also indicated that conditions are improving, albeit slowly.


David Groocock runs the St Maur Hotel on the Isle of Wight, 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 island's tourist board.

David Groocock
Confidence in the business - 9 out of 10. No change from September
Key current concern - the strength of the wider economy and the lack of lending to small firms

"October came in exactly the same as last year, a little bit disappointing as we were more or less fully booked up to the 20th of the month.

However, the last 11 days just fizzled out, and half term was a non event for us.

We did also have some cancellations in that week and didn't manage to re-let them, which was a shame.

We now hope to be up on last November, which was quiet for us. Early indications are good, so I am optimistic.

My confidence score is still nine out of 10, and the reason being is the amount of advance bookings for 2010 - a massive 80% up on this time last year.

I can't explain it, but it could be the 'staycation' factor, with people making sure they can get in when they want to.

My concerns are always the same I'm afraid - the wider economy and the lack of lending to small businesses.

I know some banks are better than others, but I do hear some stories about how hard it is to borrow money to invest and improve your business. Fortunately I have a good relationship with my bank."


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 7.5/10 in September
Key current concern - that the VAT rise from 1 January will hit sales

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

"For the first time in 2009 we are up on the same month last year, but not by much.

We are seeing that a lot of the customers that have been thinking of purchasing are coming back in now.

We are also fully advertising now to keep the flow of customer coming in, plus four new bigger and better websites are being designed to help boost trade."


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

Mark Stimson
Confidence in the business - 7.5 out of 10. Up from 7/10 in September
Key current concern - availability of mortgage products

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

"As the governor of the Bank of England recently pointed out, there is still a marked reluctance on the part of the commercial lenders to release funds to anything other than sure fire bets.

As a result, the reports of increased property prices represent a false dawn because activity in the market is not being stimulated.

Having said that, we saw more exchanges of contracts for house sale and purchase in October than in any other month in the year so far, and consequently revenue has increased.

Indicators are that this trend will continue throughout November but the worry is that the supply will dry up after Christmas if the stamp duty relaxation is not retained in the pre-Budget statement on 9 December."


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 7/10 in September
Key current concern - government cutbacks could have a knock on effect to retail and manufacturing

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

"October has seen sales continue to grow after the quiet spell throughout the summer and early autumn.

It is usual for things to get busier at this time of year, but with the current downturn in the economy it is very encouraging to see a fairly healthy order book.

Recently one or two of our suppliers have been on shaky ground, but it seems they too have been able to weather the storm.

At the beginning of the year we hoped that the country would be pulling out of recession by now, and although the figures produced by the experts say we are not, we feel that things are improving for us and our international suppliers and customers.

Reports that the US and several European countries are now experiencing growth can only be a good omen for the UK in the next few months.

The biggest threat to businesses in Northern Ireland (NI) is the dire economy in neighbouring Republic of Ireland, but on a positive note many retailers in NI are experiencing a lot of custom from the south due to the favourable currency exchange rate.

The Christmas period retail figures in NI could make very interesting reading indeed. Maybe Christmas will give everyone a boost.

As far as my company is concerned, we are fairly confident for the next few months and feel the country as a whole is beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel."


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

Louisa Sheppy
Confidence in the business - 7 out of 10. Down from 8/10 in September
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.

The Sheppys also run their own farm, specialising in Old English Longhorn cattle.

"October is the culmination of a year's preparation for our apple harvest.

We have had a good crop, as predicted, and excellent conditions throughout the month for gathering in the apples mechanically.

The hours are long at this time of year for all concerned.

We have increased our cider storage with some new tanks and had a few delaying breakdowns along the way.

We have had school visits and a busy half term, and remain fairly positive.

The biggest future concern is still very much the government's approach to managing alcohol consumption.

Duty increases are, likely, but are not an adequately targeted strategy to achieve reduced consumption either in the young social drinker or the home drinker. Minimum pricing is also fraught with difficulty."


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 September
Key current concern - increases in fuel, VAT, and business rates

It is based in Gwynedd in Wales.

"October proved to be an exceptional busy month, all due to Christmas orders and re-orders.

Enquiries for Easter 2010 have been coming in so this is also raising some optimism.

We are still taking nothing for granted but keep forging ahead with new projects.

News of businesses closing both large and small are still emerging."


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 September
Key current concern - More support needed from banks and the government to support small firms

"I have been snowed under with requests for quotations, something that wasn't happening a few months ago.

While I have confidence in myself and my staff, the problem now is convincing the bank of the direction we are going in.

Now we have to do a forecast for the bank which takes time and effort, not to mention the cost.

I can't see where it is coming from - the banks are supposed to be helping small businesses with financial help and advice.

Don't those people in high places realise that small businesses are the backbone of the country?

If it wasn't for people like us, bank bosses wouldn't be getting the high salaries and bonuses they had become accustomed to."


Leo White runs a design company in Cumbria.

He employs five members of staff, and has an annual turnover of about £300,000.

Leo White
Confidence in the business - 7 out of 10. Down from 8/10 in September
Key current concern - maintaining profit margins in a demanding market

Hydrant has 320 clients ranging from micro businesses to local authorities.

"October has continued to be relatively slow turnover wise.

With one member of staff away on holiday in New Zealand for the whole month, we'd purposefully not planned too much new work.

Instead we have relied on income from hosting and support services.

Long-term projects continue to take time, and and attention to deliver, and generally clients have become increasingly demanding about what they require for their budgets.

We've won a large project which should keep us going at a steady rate until Christmas, and we are expecting the usual pre-Christmas online marketing flurry from our smaller clients who always leave it late.

Thoughts are turning to work for the new year.

My feeling is that having grown the company over the summer - despite my initial plans not to do so - our profitability has reduced slightly, whilst my stress and the company risk levels have increased.

Our focus over the coming months continues to be efficiency and regaining the level of profitability we had prior to our expansion over the summer."


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 September
Key current concern - maintaining order book for future security

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

"Another busy month for our team at Island Leisure.

The feedback from the national park owners is showing further interest in new amenity and commercial buildings.

This is I presume from healthy revenue returns due to the higher percentage of holidays taken in the UK of late.

At this time we can see into 2010, with orders now placed for spring delivery.

We propose to promote more strongly the after sales ability we have to service new and existing customers built up over the last 20 years.

In these difficult times it has become most apparent to us all that after sales is a key role for any product provider.

If support is available at this time when many are cutting out services to save costs, we should be well placed when markets recover with a brand of quality and service."


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

Jenny Lees
Confidence in the business - 8.5 out of 10. No change from September
Key current concern - we are in the EU, which has protective laws for small companies and strict rules as to payment terms, so why doesn't the government implement them?

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

They run their firm alongside their separate business - a stud farm.

"October was a very good month for Dentanurse - sales were up slightly on last October.

A sample insert in a dental magazine of our latest product produced a flurry of new customers, as well as bringing us back to the attention of the old ones.

Simple but necessary, the product is a sterile extraction aftercare pack, with a list of do's and don'ts on the back.

How many of us have had a tooth removed and left the dentist nodding, but unheeding, as he lists the do's and don'ts?

Most people are so overwhelmed after having a tooth out that they rarely take in what they have been advised regarding aftercare.

Our latest idea means that the dentist can provide you with a Dentanurse post extraction aftercare pack containing a sterile haemostatic pad (to bite on) and very good advice on what to do and not to do."

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