Covid hasn’t stopped our businesses – neither will strikes and squeezes!

Christmas is the peak business season for many small, independent retailers, but a mountain of challenges means it’s becoming all but impossible for them to take full advantage.

However, postal and rail strikes, rising energy costs, a squeeze on consumer spending, supply chain problems and the war in Ukraine have unleashed a perfect storm for businesses.

Undaunted, many small business owners come up with solutions. As one business owner puts it: “We thought Covid was bad, but this is a lot worse. But we got through Covid and we’re determined to get through this.

Looking at the costs: jewelry designer Lottie Leigh and Kelly Vowles on the left

Looking at the costs: jewelry designer Lottie Leigh and Kelly Vowles on the left

The Mail on Sunday is speaking to some of the companies affected.

postal and railway strikes

As a jewelry designer, Lottie Leigh of Lottie Leigh Fine Jewelery says Christmas is crucial for commissions and sales. But this year it’s being slowed down by postal strikes that are affecting both its supply chain and its ability to ship orders to customers.

Lottie started designing jewelry 12 years ago when she couldn’t find her dream engagement ring. She now creates jewelry for clients using the latest computer aided designs and 3D printing technology.

“The jewelery industry relies heavily on Royal Mail, particularly their dedicated delivery service, as our insurance covers expensive items being sent via this service,” says Lottie.

She adds: “I use Royal Mail to send and receive items to and from the Assay Office for hallmarking – and to receive castings from my foundry. If you cannot rely on speedy processing to receive these items, it means there will be delays in completing commissions. And when you’re hired to make engagement rings for Christmas and New Year’s proposals, it can be stressful.”

To alleviate some of the issues she is facing, Lottie has traveled from her North London office to various suppliers to collect and deliver items herself. This was time consuming. She has also had to hire staff to help pack items and take them to the post office for them to go out on non-strike days.

“It’s very important to make sure items aren’t in transit during a strike, as it reduces the chance of them getting lost,” says Lottie. “I’ve been more likely to use suppliers from London than anywhere else in the UK as I can visit them myself if I need to.”

Rising energy costs

Bakery owner Charlotte Giddings is struggling to keep her business running due to rising energy bills.

After moving from London to Diss, Suffolk in 2018 – a move featured on BBC One program Escape To The Country – Charlotte and husband Luke planned to run a mobile cafe. But when Covid swept the country, they turned to baking and launched Brownie and the Bean. It makes cakes, brownies, and sweet treats for retail and wholesale customers.

But with ten refrigerators, four ovens, kitchen appliances, dishwashers and blenders running constantly in the converted bakery with a double garage, the company has been hit hard by rising energy prices.

“It used to be £400 for a tank of fuel, now it’s £2,200 and the cost of electricity has gone up tremendously,” says Charlotte. “The costs of our ingredients – sugar, eggs and flour – have skyrocketed and we’ve also been hit by the rise in petrol prices as we do our own wholesale deliveries. But we can’t sit at home crying – we made 1,100 brownies on Friday.”

To cut costs, the company has reduced packaging, now buys essential commodities like sugar in bulk, and uses reusable containers for wholesale shipments. “We don’t want to compromise on ingredients, but if it gets expensive, we’ll fight,” says Charlotte.

The strikes have meant the couple have worked long hours to ensure everything is ready in time to reach customers before Christmas. “I support everyone’s right to strike, but after the difficult times many small businesses have had in recent years, it’s pretty dizzying,” says Charlotte.

war in Ukraine

Charlotte Bordewey runs the Spencer-Brookes Designs laser engraving and cutting business with her mother, Susan, and brother, Chris.

She says: “We’ve seen countless fights this year. It makes what we call the ‘Covid Years’ a walk in the park.”

The company manufactures crafts and personalized gifts with its laser cutting machines, mainly using wood and acrylic materials.

Due to the embargo on Russian imports following the invasion of Ukraine, importing Baltic plywood, mostly sourced from Russia, is now illegal.

Charlotte says: “All the alternatives sold out quickly and then became unavailable. The quality of the wood that was left was terrible and we were offered inferior material for more than it previously cost.”

Savings: Bakers Luke and Charlotte Giddings are now bulk-buying essentials

Savings: Bakers Luke and Charlotte Giddings are now bulk-buying essentials

Based in Leominster, Herefordshire, the company has been forced to switch to MDF (medium density fibreboard) instead, but this has resulted in the loss of a large number of customers who have not yet come back.

Charlotte has since found a better alternative, but it still costs more than the company used to pay. This has severely impacted profits.

Adding to the company’s concerns, while the impact of the Royal Mail strikes has been appalling, certain design products such as spray paints and glitter acrylics have been difficult to come by.

Many customers have been discouraged from ordering online due to all the uncertainty, while the earlier ‘last post’ dates for Christmas have resulted in a loss of nearly two weeks of trading.

The company defends itself by diversifying into digital products. By selling template designs online, Spencer-Brookes is able to cater to the growing number of people who are buying their own laser cutters – for business or for a hobby. Charlotte says: “We are determined to sprint to the bottom in 2023.”

Possible power outages

Increasing costs and declining clientele are making business difficult for Kelly Vowles, owner of Pixal-Rose hair salon and academy in Swindon, Wiltshire.

Kelly is also concerned that power outages could further jeopardize her business.

“We have taken many steps to combat the problems we face,” she says. “We’ve switched to single-use towels in the salon to reduce the time we use the washing machine – and we’re buying cheaper products wherever we can, such as. B. Gloves on Amazon.”

To boost business, Kelly’s Salon offers easier-to-maintain color services, which are proving popular.

She also trains employees to make more specialized cuts, which lowers product costs and boosts business.

Building up your training academy is also a useful extra income.

And to avoid power outages, Kelly says, “Our clients can work on their laptops during treatments to avoid probable power outages. We can even be silent when they want to make a Zoom call.

Some links in this article may be affiliate links. If you click on this, we may earn a small commission. This helps us fund This Is Money and keep it free to use. We do not write articles to promote products. We do not allow a business relationship to compromise our editorial independence. Covid hasn’t stopped our businesses – neither will strikes and squeezes!

Janice Dean

Janice Dean is a WSTPost U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Janice Dean joined WSTPost in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing:

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