How small businesses in Kent are adapting due to coronavirus

The uncertainty surrounding what will happen to small businesses due to coronavirus is a daunting thought. However, it is one that has pushed many entrepreneurs and companies to take innovative steps to ensure that their businesses stay afloat in a time where it’s truly adapt or die as a business.

A National Small Business Association member survey found that three in four small-business owners are very concerned about the economic impact of COVID-19.

Almost half of them have already seen reduced customer demand and 38% aren’t confident in the financial future of their business.

With months of struggle likely to lie ahead for many of Britain’s independent and small businesses, the key to survival for many is remaining positive and doing their best to still provide their services to customers.

Happy Healthy Yoga

Frances Robertson-Ritchie runs Happy Healthy Yoga across Kent, normally she’d be in gyms, schools, offices and church halls teaching her classes, but coronavirus has bought all of this to a stark halt. Frances has turned to the digital world in order to keep her business afloat in such uncertain times.

“As soon as I realised what was happening, I got to work getting my classes online.  I had this feeling that both myself and my clients would need connection now more than ever, with the lockdown looming.  I had been thinking about starting some kind of online offering but of course, it was always bottom of my list of things to do.”

She said that lockdown has required her to learn a whole new set of skills, from Zoom and Facebook live to filming, lighting, sound quality, “It’s been a steep learning curve!”.

Ritchie says that there are positives that have come out of having to put her business online: “An added bonus of this has been that people who wouldn’t normally be able to come to my classes due to distance, or needing a babysitter can now join me from the comfort of their living room.”

Because of the success of her online classes, she hopes to continue them even once lockdown is lifted. “I will definitely be keeping at least two of my classes online as I think it offers an extra level of convenience for my clients.”

But like many, she’s uncertain of the long-term impact it will have on her business and doesn’t know if things will return to normal. “It’s hard to envisage when and how yoga classes will return as we knew them before.  I’ve been trying to imagine how keeping the students 2 metres apart would work with the spaces that I use.  I think that there will be more outdoor classes”

Streets Dance Company

Similarly, for Stephanie Fittal, who runs Streets dance company, has found she’s lost a lot of business and has started online classes too. Normally teaching over 60 children a week from Barham village hall in Canterbury, she says some of her students are finding it hard to adapt to online classes.

“Either due to not wanting to do online classes, not getting on with the online classes as it’s very different and a lot harder for the kids this way or from them not being able to afford classes at this time.”

With kids dropping out she’s not sure how things will pan out after lockdown is over. “Well I feel like I will have to start again when we return from online, as I have lost over half my students in this process already.”

And for Stephanie and so many others, waiting for government grants and loans is proving difficult: “They want to help in June when hopefully this would have moved on slightly. In the moment being able to claim universal credit isn’t enough.”

Gym instructors, Personal trainers and many other people who rely on face to face contact to provide their services are feeling the pressures of lockdown on their businesses. Many people are choosing to forgo the online alternative altogether, which puts these exercise fanatics in a difficult position.

For other small businesses in industries like hospitality, they are also finding it hard to keep up with the changing pace of everything.

Bangers and Balls

Imogen Tinkler runs Bangers and Balls, a company specialising in offering unique interactive dining experiences in unusual places around Kent and other counties. Due to Covid-19 and all restaurants being ordered to shut, these have had to stop. However, Bangers and Balls hasn’t let this hold them back from being innovative in the way they provide their services.

Like many people, going online was at the bottom of Imogen’s to do list and although challenging, current circumstances has given them the push they needed to launch some of their online services.

“We have launched a paid membership group- the Foodie Revolution. We wanted to do this ages ago but we never did- I think fear held us back.”

Their free group has also grown during lockdown where people continue to talk and share recipes.

They have turned a lot of their events virtual such as their supper club where you get 3 courses delivered to your door. “We have made it really personal with a hand written note, a little gift e.g. a flower in a bottle or something to grow”

Despite the challenges business may face in these hard times, Imogen says she is connecting more with other food businesses and they are supporting each other.

Hopfuzz Brewery

Likewise, Martyn Playford has seen it as a chance to expand his business, a microbrewery in Hythe. The brewery normally sells to pubs, bars and restaurants selling their beer on a larger scale in kegs and casks but due to them being shut so abruptly, they quickly came up with an alternative.

Martyn says: “we have been very lucky that we have been able to adapt in the way we have resulting in only minor disruption to turnover”

The brewery managed to build an online sales website within about 10 days on a small budget. “We have moved our business 90% online, and are now delivering cases of bottled beers to households as opposed to selling direct to pubs.”

Martyn understands that the success that hopfuzz brewery has had in adapting its services is not the case for everyone. “I appreciate some businesses won’t be able to adjust as easily and won’t be able to utilise the help as easily”.

Although times are hard it’s great to hear about how businesses across Kent are keeping open and adapting their services to suit a more digital world.

If you are a small business and are unsure of what help is available, follow this link.