Page last updated at 00:02 GMT, Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Small firms upbeat for 2010

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

December was a successful month for pretty much all of the 10 small companies the BBC is following throughout 2009.

More importantly, they are all confident that 2010 will be a much better year for business than 2009, as the UK's economic recovery gathers pace.


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 October
Key current concern - Hard choices are going to have to be made by the next government. How much this pushes the economy backwards remains to be seen

"We were closed during December after having a slightly better November than last year.

It is this time of year when you look forward to 2010, and indications are pretty good with advance bookings up 80% on 2009.

You have to go back a few years to have as many advance bookings as we have for this time of year.

As a result, this all promises to be good for 2010, with many of the same issues remaining for holidaymakers that we had in 2009, such as the strong euro, and the difficulty of travelling from airports."


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 October
Key current concern - that putting the VAT back up will slow sales again, and imminent tax increases

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

"VAT going back up to 17.5% on 1 January did not do much to push up sales in December.

However, we still had a fair month, with sales up 7% or 8% from a year earlier.

We now have to see how well the first quarter of 2010 will do.

To lift sales as much as possible in December, we dropped our prices to rock bottom - below those on the internet - on TVs and laptops between 26 and 31 December.

We are now carrying on prices at that level for as long as possible, plus absorbing the VAT increase on all sales."


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. Down from 7.5/10 in October
Key current concern - availability of mortgage products

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

"December was actually a very encouraging month for us.

Billing reached the best level since January of last year, and new cases continued to come in at a steady rate despite the short month.

It is clear that the market is skewed because the traditional seasonal downturn didn't seem to happen.

In the run-up to Christmas, we were frantically busy and there does seem to be a slight relaxation in mortgage lending criteria that is continuing to stimulate the market.

There is still a very long way to go, but there does seem to be some light at the end of the tunnel.

Let's hope it's not a false dawn."


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 October
Key current concern - none

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

"December was a very busy month, as hoped and predicted.

Sales were seasonally high from most of our UK and Irish stockists.

As usual, there was also the last-minute rush, with customers requesting bespoke pieces at the last minute.

But we had anticipated this, and with a bit of planning and overtime from our staff, we were able to fulfil all of our customers' needs.

Just into the new year and we are having a lot of inquiries, which is very encouraging, as new year can sometimes feel like the calm after the storm.

From talking with friends and colleagues in business over the Christmas period about their thoughts for 2010, it was disturbing to hear that some feel that 2010 is 'payback time'.

They feel that with the prospect of a hung parliament at the next general election, the increase in VAT and other higher taxes looming, along with cuts in public spending, we could be in for a rougher ride than in 2009.

I, however feel that now we are into 2010, we can give a sigh of relief that the worst is over and push 2009 to the past and look forward to a cautious, yet productive year."


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. No change from October
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.

"December is the start of our maintenance season, beginning after pressing has ended.

Bottling for Christmas kept us busy and off-farm sales were about what was expected, while the shop was extraordinarily busy.

An Early Day Motion by a small group of MP's - which proposed an increase in duty in line with beer duty - shook the cider industry generally, and has left small traditional cider-makers like us very worried indeed.

In essence, if duty is increased in line with alcoholic content (ABV), then traditional cider-makers (often small, family independents) whose products are naturally at the high end of ABV stand to be hit very hard.

Our business is founded on naturally-produced high-quality cider, and it's what makes the small producers special.

Some form of consideration for small producers was hinted at, and we hang on in hope that this will protect us."


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 October
Key current concern - that VAT may go up to 20%

It is based in Gwynedd in Wales.

"December was again a very busy month.

We had both customers repeating orders for Christmas, and Easter orders coming in for January/February delivery.

We are now preparing to attend trade fairs throughout January and February.

Hopefully the bad weather will not affect attendances at these shows which will hamper a good start for 2010.

All we can do is continue to work hard on new projects and take nothing for granted."


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 October
Key current concern - more support needed from banks and the government to support small firms

"December is always a difficult month for the building industry as January and February are always quiet.

The weather also isn't helping our cause, but that's an issue for everyone.

Although I'm very concerned about our financial position, we couldn't have had a better response order-wise for 2010.

We have received long ongoing orders for the coming year and beyond, and the future looks very very promising.

The nice thing is, they are concrete orders, not hearsay, with the prospect of a lot more to come.

I'm confident and assured of our future, especially if we can get over the next three months.

After that, I know there'll be no turning back and we can look forward to a bright future.

The housing market is definitely on the up and that is very good news for the manufacturing people like ourselves.

I'm very glad to see the back of 2009 which was a disaster for me and a lot of other people, no doubt. Let's think positive and move on."


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 - 8 out of 10. Up from 7/10 in October
Key current concern - Planning work further in advance and increasing stability

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

"We had a relaxing break over Christmas and time to reflect on a tough, but rewarding year.

The few weeks leading up to Christmas was, as usual, very busy with pre-Christmas launch deadlines.

However, November and December also saw a marked increase in new leads, and combined with our decision to focus more on our core specialisms, means that we've started booking work further in advance than ever before.

One simple change we've made is to reward clients who commit to web design projects well in advance by offering them better rates than for last-minute work.

So far, the response to this approach has been good, though we need to see these project bookings through to completion to know that the scheme really works long-term. Short-term, it's allowed us to start planning our workload more efficiently."


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 October
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.

"A few contracts which we had been working on converted into orders during December.

This proved a good end to the year, knowing we were coming back after the holiday period with work in hand to see us into the spring.

In general 2009 was slow, with turnover down on previous years, but it has at least been consistent, which allowed us to retain all members of staff.

The decision to employ a development manager, with a sales-orientated background, half way through the year has proven to be a success.

If we hadn't done this and gone down the road of exploring and seeking out new markets, I don't think we would be in the strong position we are now.

Part of our focus now is the Outdoor and Leisure show at the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre, which starts early February.

We are in the process of manufacturing a show home for exhibit, which showcases not only the buildings we manufacture, but the service we provide clients in both sales and after-sales back-up."


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 October
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.

"Despite the snow and a two-week shut down, December remained a good month for sales at Dentanurse.

It is a time of the year when our first-aid kit for teeth comes to the fore on the sales charts.

"The sticky Christmas puddings, crackling on the pork, plus the chocolate with the unknown centre - they are all friends to Dentanurse, as they swiftly remove fillings and lift off crowns.

The snow turned our site into a winter wonderland, but thankfully commuting for us is just a stroll across the yard.

I employ several people from my village and they too have managed to get into work clad in warm weather gear and wellies.

It has been fun, but I think the novelty of living in our own version of Lapland is now wearing a bit thin."

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