Christmas is a critical time for many businesses. But with a month remaining, many small company owners are worried that the festive incentive will fail to materialize this year as families withdraw in response to rising prices, higher fuel bills and larger tax bills.
Dee Stringer, a former special effects artist and prop maker, founded her business Slumbering Hound six years ago.
The 52-year-old makes cushions, wraps and accessories for dogs, including his 13-year-old Greyhound Aston. Two years ago, when the business began to outstrip its home, Dee opened a retail store and workshop in the Hatfield House grounds in Hertfordshire – the films and TV series The Crown and Bridgerton.
Concern: Dee Stringer founded her agency Slumbering Hound six years ago
He says: ‘I opened in February 2020, wondering what the coming year would offer and worried that I had made the right decision. Five weeks later we were all on lockdown and I didn’t know the whole world would change.
Dee continued her business with a mix of online sales, government grants and sales figures of people and their pets.
But last Christmas was a booming time for the slumbering hound, but orders have fallen drastically.
“I’m really hoping for a good Christmas in 2022 to put a little less pressure on,” he says. ‘January and February are always tough months. I am crossing my fingers that people will come out and shop than buy everything from Amazon.
Adrienne Treeby, 38, founded her company Crown & Q in 2014, making heritage-breed, high-welfare British cured meats from historical recipes. They sell these to major restaurants and retailers, including Fortnum and Mason.
After working hard to build the business, 2020 is truly going to be its own year – and then the lockdown happened. Although her London Covent Garden store was closed and her wholesale business disappeared overnight, online orders flooded.
Adrienne worries that this year, though, sales are down, cash flow is a problem and people are waiting too late to place orders.
“I crossed all my fingers and toes in anticipation of our Christmas sale,” he says. ‘Our products are an important part of the Christmas sideboard for many families, but what I worry most about is that sales don’t come, but we come too late to accept them.
‘A lot of people are postponing the purchase of seasonal goodies, especially food, so they can have dinner – and dinner guests – for as long as they expect.’
Lucy Murray, 35, owns two businesses: Lucy and Olive & Pip’s online gift shop Little Things, where she makes and sells personalized gifts and clothes from children’s own artwork.
This year, he says, ‘is particularly tough and unpredictable’. He adds: ‘With stock delays, increasing material and postage rates and changing shoppers’ habits, we have to fight a lot of competition and the fight for visibility online. We make 40 percent of our annual sales in the pre-Christmas period and the money wraps up around Mother’s Day. If it is quiet during the festive season we may not have that buffer and may struggle.
Tim Rundle-Wood, 41, another small business owner, is feeling the pressure. He began selling handmade soft furniture online and later expanded to naturally scented candles and diffusers after his dog Henry fell ill with inhalation toxicity caused by synthetic fragrances.
During the lockdown, their online business ‘exploded’ and they found space in Shoreditch, east London, where they could make and sell their products. Despite the lockdowns, the store had a ‘good run’ last year, but this year is completely different. He says: ‘London does not feel like recovering and many tourists and city workers have not returned. So far this month, we’ve only had open sales for the first four days of November, sales are lower than last year. That’s how bad it is.
‘With the 50 percent or more increase in the cost of rent, pay and business rates, as well as the cost of utility bills and materials, the pressure is really breaking.’
Mike Cherry, national president of the Federation of Small Businesses, told The Mail on Sunday: ‘As we move into the festive season, for many small businesses the stakes are high and the trading conditions are very tough. Supply chain disruption, lack of skills and rising inflation are all taking their toll. That is why we are urging everyone to leave small businesses behind Christmas.
‘We lost 400,000 small businesses in the last year. If we want to avoid a similar outcome in the next 12 months, we should think small this Christmas.
Small business needs
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