Bonnie normally writes our blogs but it's my turn this time for reasons that will soon become clear.
An apology first as this is another blog about the COVID 19 pandemic in the UK. I've not actually read any others but I'm sure there are plenty to keep you occupied for a while. Hopefully this one will be different as I’ll explain what has been going on in the background to keep the business going.
We'll start back in mid March, when, I believe, I contracted the virus and subsequently had 2 weeks working from home. Whilst feeling sorry for myself I was keeping up to date with how events were unfolding around the world and instructed my colleagues to work at home from 23rd March for at least 2 weeks. Being a largely workshop based company, there was limited work that could be done from home but I thought it was necessary given what was being reported..
Boris then instructed most of the country into lockdown which coincided with my 30th birthday on 24th March, one to remember for sure! I was keeping in touch with the others as they worked through the to do list of computer based tasks for the week, whilst I looked for what to do next.
I remember thinking that to begin with I was reluctant to place my colleagues on furlough, but despite being in a relatively financially stable position I then realised it would be foolish not to, considering we were nearing the height of our busy period, yet with the country being told to stay at home. By 3rd April everyone had been placed on furlough leave and told that they will still receive their full pay, with 80% subsidised by the government through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. Another financial aid we received was a £10,000 Small Business Grant, paid to any company that is eligible for the Small Business Rates Scheme. This arrived on 14th April promptly after applying a few days prior via the Exeter City Council website.
By early April I was feeling much better so went into the workshop to finish off some orders. Before I was ill, the plan was to improve the way we made the Giant Deckchairs so I spent some time trialling ideas and working out the best way to machine the timber. I have long thought that some of the wood processing can be automated as it involves repetitive tasks, which so far have been carried out using jigs (a device used to maintain mechanically the correct positional relationship between a piece of work and the tool or between parts of work during assembly).
I decided a CNC (computer numerical controlled) router will be the best option so began my quest for a suitable candidate. After fantasising about having all the bells and whistles, of which would cost hundreds of thousands of pounds, I settled on a more affordable and modest size, ideally suited to our workshop and beginner status. The only catch was that I had to build it myself! A steep learning curve, multiple phone calls, WhatsApp messages, replacement parts and several weeks later we now have a fully functioning ‘toy’ capable of cutting half a sheet of plywood at once! This will not only machine the Giant Deckchair parts but will also open up a whole realm of opportunities and much needed future revenue to keep us going over the winter. The plan is to start with giant letters that customers can decorate themselves to match their own colour scheme, then build up a library of products depending on what our customers ask for. Basically, if it’s flat and you can get it on a computer, we can cut it... so let us know if you have any ideas!
Up until 1st July, to be eligible to receive the grant to pay furloughed staff, they had to be off for a minimum of 3 weeks, whereas now there is no limit.. Everyone had been in for at least a week prior to this and going forward they will be in 1 day a week until sales pick up. Our figures show income has dropped 90% in the 3 months to June compared to the same period last year.
We will be applying for a Bounceback Loan shortly, once we’ve changed bank accounts from HSBC to The Co-operative Bank. This is a government backed loan with; a fixed rate of 2.5% interest per year over 5 years; interest payments paid by the government for the 1st year; and no penalty for paying it back early. This will aid our cashflow over the winter through to next summer. I have every intention of paying the loan back in full.
All the while Tricia at Danu Design has been continuing to develop our new website with phase 2 being launched in June. She would upload additional features to the staging/dummy site which we would then add content and pictures to, before it all being uploaded to the live site. The next phase will allow artwork to be uploaded and edited on the website, providing a truly bespoke design service.
We’re fortunate enough to own our premises which allows us to think longer term and make the best use of the space. Looking forward we will be making boards out of recycled plastic which we can then cut into shapes and letters using the CNC machine. We have obtained plans to make a heat press to melt and squash shredded plastic into 5mm+ thick sheets. All we need then is a supply of clean plastic ‘waste’ to get us up and running. Please get in touch if you have a regular supply of offcuts, byproducts or containers etc from an industrial process or you want to set up a local collection point.
As a completely new but (potentially) more stable and regular income stream I have been researching vertical farming. This will utilise a small space we have available in the warehouse. By using filtered rainwater, LED lighting and a climate controlled environment, microgreens, such as baby leaf spinach and watercress, can be ready to harvest in as little as 15 days. The setup will be primarily to research different growing techniques with the aim to scale up the results in a purpose built facility. We will be growing highly nutritious food 24/7/365 whilst using a fraction of the water that would be used in the field.
I hope I’m not the only one wondering where the last 4 months have gone... It doesn’t feel like I’ve actually achieved very much. Though I quite often feel that so maybe I need to learn not to be so hard on myself.