- Many small and medium-sized businesses have reopened since the pandemic
- However, many people have found that their customer base has disappeared.
- Is it because of fear of getting covid or people who are learning to cut
After waiting so many months for lockdown restrictions to be lifted, UK small and medium-sized businesses may have thought they were out of the woods once free to do business.
Yet not only are they facing huge recruitment shortages, but many are finding that the lasting impact of the pandemic is a permanent shift in consumer spending.
In some instances, a large part of their business has simply disappeared.
Claire Hattrick, 53, from Hampshire, has worked as a beauty therapist for 15 years, converting her garage into a fully equipped salon, offering a wide range of manicures, pedicures, waxing and facials.
Andrea Pugh launched its sustainable gifting and homewares marketplace in October last year
Like all salon owners, she was forced to close shop in March last year and was left with only self-employment income aid grants and financial help from her grown-up twin daughters.
But even though she is now free to do business again, Claire says business income is down 80 percent since her reopening.
She says, ‘Everything was going well before Kovid, but during the pandemic many of my clients learned to do beauty treatments at home and are not coming back to the salon now.
‘People still need their hair at the hairdresser, but my clients have gotten used to getting their nails done and waxing.’
Many of her regular old customers passed away during the pandemic, while others are still very cautious about COVID returning.
Others are concerned about their finances and have cut discretionary spending. Some, Claire says, ‘are not as outdoorsy as they used to be and therefore don’t need as much grooming’.
She adds: ‘There are a lot of business owners in a similar situation. I have been challenged financially and am wondering how long I can last. I am struggling to find any positives.
‘Every day, I just live in hope, but I can’t do that forever. It is an incredibly worrying time.’
Claire, who used to work three full days a week and evenings, now works only one day a week.
She has diversified by starting a new life support business at ClipboardClaire.com and writing a book about menopause to create new income streams.
‘If I have to shut the doors, at least I have more projects,’ she says. ‘I’m just hoping Christmas will be good for business.’
Some small businesses are saying their business has disappeared since the pandemic hit
Andrea Pugh of Abingdon, Oxfordshire, launched her sustainable gift and homewares marketplace It Doesn’t Cost the Earth in October last year. Initially, business boomed as people wanted to improve their homes during the pandemic.
‘We sell over 1,500 sustainable products on our website, from candles and cleaning products to utensils and cushions,’ says Andrea, 35. But since the restrictions were lifted, sales have declined and are yet to pick up.
‘Our customers have gone missing and we are sincerely hoping they will come back, but so far there is no sign of that. There are a lot of small business owners like me who are really worried.’
Andrea attributes the decline in business to being a lot worse than people usually thought.
She says: ‘I was recently shocked to see queues for the local foodbank and people worried about the furlough ending.
‘Our products are a discretionary spend, so people are deciding to either curb their overall spending or use their extra money to catch up with friends.’
Firms are finding that the lasting impact of covid is a permanent change in consumer spending
Andrea has tried to counter the decline in subscriber count by growing its email list, offering discounts for new and returning customers, getting more on social media, and starting to work with so-called influencers.
‘Using influencers is our first time and it has been a steep learning curve,’ says Andrea. ‘We are focusing on people with a small but very engaged group of followers.’
Andrea had hoped to quit her job as an accountant to work full-time on the business, but is now reluctant to do so.
‘I’m scared,’ she admits. ‘It’s a new venture, I don’t have a huge pot of cash and I’m a single mother, so it’s a big gamble.
‘I’ve seen so many other small businesses crumble over the past year and some days you think, ‘What have I done?’ On the other hand, we are trying to come out of this difficult phase hoping for better things.
Jennifer Earle, 39, of Forest Gate, east London, has been running food tours since 2005 and left her career in food development with brands such as McDonald’s and Marks & Spencer to go full-time with her business Chocolate Ecstasy Tours.
‘It was where my heart was,’ she says. ‘It’s like a more delicious version of a guided tour of London. You learn all about the history of the area by visiting artisan boutiques, tasting lots of chocolate and ice cream.’
As well as running the tour herself, Jennifer ran a team of five tour guides but everything stopped in March last year. “I had to cancel everything and didn’t make a dime until this June, when I started doing private tasting groups online,” she says.
These were so successful that Jennifer is now focusing her business entirely on private tours and online tastings after clients have failed to return to her live tours.
She says: ‘At my peak I was doing four or five visits a week for 30 people. Now, I’m left with just one or two with a total of eight people, so it’s not worth it.
‘I’m doing more to promote the brand and increase the number of private tours for corporate clients than to sell individual tickets and expect people to come.