The Covid 19 Pandemic has created challenges for the global economy. Essential measures to curb the spread of coronavirus saw a lockdown introduced across the UK on 23 March.
Welsh businesses have needed to explore new ways to continue trading. Recent FSB Wales figures show that while half of small businesses closed when lockdown was announced, the rest continued to work. Many have worked remotely, with other businesses making physical changes to stores and offices or introducing new take-away and delivery services.
In Wales, companies have been supported by the Development Bank of Wales and Welsh Government though existing grant and loan schemes, business rate reductions and grants, and through the £100 million Covid-19 Wales Business Loan Scheme (CWBLS).
CWBLS has proven to be an important lifeline for many. By the 5 June £77.8 million had been lent to over 1,200 Welsh businesses by the Development Bank. There has been significant uptake of all government support, including those offered through the Economic Resilience Fund in Wales.
As restrictions lift Welsh businesses are having to examine what their new normal will be and what support is available to help meet that.
FSB Wales conducted a survey between 23 and 30 April this year. Results show that lockdown has led to many businesses dramatically changing how they work, often using technology to do this. Twenty-two per cent have moved to home and remote working by the middle of lockdown, with 20% using digital technologies like Zoom and Microsoft Teams to support this.
Companies also reported changes and diversification in the way they operate and interact with customers, 11% made physical changes to their premises to follow new social distancing rules with 17.5% moving online for the first time to offer products or services. FSB expect more businesses to need to make physical changes and introduce greater remote working opportunities as the pandemic continues.
Two Development Bank of Wales customers to make changes to how they operate are La Crème Patisserie and Dylan’s Restaurants.
La Crème Patisserie saw the majority of their traditional supply-chain dry up as their business customers were forced to cancel event-after-event. They decided to diversify their business by offering a delivery service for cakes, afternoon tea, desserts, shortbread and brownies. These can be purchased through a new shop section on their website.
“This is usually one of our busiest times of year, supplying events like the Henley Regatta, Lord’s Cricket and venues like Kew Gardens and the Tower of London, But with the pandemic being declared in March, virtually all of these have had to cancel or close their doors,” explained Sian Hindle, Managing Director of La Crème Patisserie.
“We have started offering our luxury cakes and afternoon teas for delivery online. In our first week we received over £7,000 in orders. Business has been excellent. Whilst we’re looking forward to a return to normal when it is safe to do so, we’re delighted that we’ve been able to offer a new service and reach new customers through online sales. Lots of businesses are sending gifts to staff and clients to keep in touch.”
Dylan’s closed their doors on March 20, reopening their first site for takeaway seven weeks later.
“The help we’ve received from the Development Bank has been fantastic. Being able to access financial support through CWBLS was essential to help us keep going as a business,” said Dylan’s Managing Director David Evans.
“We decided to close all of our restaurants when the lockdown was announced, giving away any food supplies that would go to waste to local foodbanks. I and the team at Dylan’s have been involved in helping to feed frontline NHS staff, homeless people and those on the shielding list over the last few months under the Neges project with Menter Mon.
"As we worked, we looked at ways that we could re-open our restaurants in a safe way. Our Menai Bridge restaurant is now open every day of the week for take-away, with a number of our other restaurants also opening up. We’re looking at ways we can adapt our venues to allow customers to return safely as restrictions ease this summer.”
Rhian Elston, Investment Director for the Development Bank of Wales said: “We’ve heard some amazing stories of resilience and ingenuity from our customers throughout lockdown. There is no doubt that the pandemic will result in some permanent changes to the way we work and the businesses that anticipate and react to these changes will be well placed for future growth.
"The survey also demonstrated that almost a quarter of businesses had stopped product development to preserve cash flow. This is understandable as an immediate reaction, but we are keen to support the return of this investment to ensure businesses are able to adapt and grow.
“Our staff have been working tirelessly to offer support to Welsh businesses and it’s incredibly rewarding to hear their story and the wider impact they’ve had.”
Ben Cottam, FSB Wales Head of External Affairs, said: “We’ve heard some inspiring stories of businesses that have diversified in order to navigate the pandemic. Not only have firms diversified to survive, they are also helping to support their communities by offering things such as grocery deliveries, which help those who are unable to shop outside the home, developing hand sanitiser for Wales’ care homes and responding to the challenge to provide essential PPE.
“The key to a firm’s ability to innovate and diversify right now is that government support gives a business the time and space to plan for how they can change their usual mode of business. We’ve been pleased to work with Welsh Government in order to influence the Economic Resilience Fund and would urge any firms who have not yet qualified for the scheme to try the eligibility tool again in mid-June, as the second phase of the fund has changed its criteria after much campaigning from FSB.
“The Development Bank of Wales moved at real speed to provide an essential lifeline through its Covid-19 Loan Fund, and I look forward to continuing to work with the Development Bank as we support businesses to weather the coronavirus outbreak.”