It’s fair to say that 2020 has been a year like no other – yet, amid all the challenges, our Durham Business Club and Executive Group members have been staying positive, supporting each other, and adapting their businesses as best they can in order to navigate all the upheaval. Throughout November and December, we have been capturing and sharing these uplifting stories under the heading of #DBCPositiveVibes.
Successes are arguably all the more important to celebrate when they have been achieved off the back of adversity. Longstanding Durham Business Club member Phil Mill, who owns professional ironing company Strike While The Irons Hot, is one of many member businesses whose operations were plunged into disarray by lockdown. But, with typical North East grit, Phil has worked hard to support his team, kept serving and winning customers, been agile in adapting his business to the situation, and is now approaching 2021 with optimism for a better – and more “normal” – year ahead.
Here, in his own words, is Phil’s story of 2020.
We really struggled during the first lockdown as we paid out all of our staff wages, VAT, and with no income had no money to cover the rent.
After a long wait we received the £10k grant from the government and we could pay the rent and our van leases. If we hadn’t moved the business to having premises in May 2019 we wouldn’t have survived, as we wouldn’t have been registered for Business Rates with the Council and qualified for the £10k grant. Also, the ironers would have still been self-employed and working from home.
Having the premises, and having the staff employed by the company, we could furlough them and have 80% of their wages covered by the government. As self-employed ironers they would have been on their own, having to navigate their own way through the process to see whether they could receive any financial help.
We have survived as a company and all employees have been retained, and everyone has been back at work since we resumed ironing in June.
We are missing clients who are not wearing the same volume or type of clothing as before – instead of ironing all of their shirts some are still sending us polo shirts and T-shirts, and some are capable of ironing their own clothes now that they maybe have more time, or clothing doesn’t need to be as pristine for Zoom calls.
Our customer volumes and the volume of ironing being ironed is therefore down, but we have hope that these customers will return. In some cases, weekly customers are now fortnightly – but they are still sending ironing on that basis.
Since June we have had at least 12 new customers who have used our ironing service – they’ve mainly come to us through Google search or from a customer recommendation. Around half of these are now regular weekly or fortnightly customers. This is great news.
Before lockdown we returned ironing on a 24-hour basis. To help protect staff and customers we introduced a 48-hour return whereby ironing collected and quarantined at our premises in Meadowfield for 24 hours before it is ironed. This means our ironing schedule had to change and staff now work on a Saturday morning and have a Monday off.
This means that on a Monday, due to being closed on a Saturday and therefore having no ironing, it’s collections only and we only need one van to be able to collect 150 to 200kg of ironing. The other van was just sitting idle, so I decided to add a large number of pins to our coverage map, allowing collections from a large part of Newcastle and North Tyneside as well as County Durham. This hasn’t really been communicated yet, and I need to find a way of doing this task better.
The only time of year we have a closure is usually Christmas. Our last collections are on Monday 21st December, delivered back on Wednesday 23rd December – and that’s it for ironing before Christmas.
Usually we’d be closed until New Year, but this year, with the 24-hour quarantine in mind, we are having a special collection night from ANY area we cover on Thursday 30th December and it will be ironed and delivered back on Sunday 3rd January, in time for return to school (if schools return as planned). We are back to normal from Sunday 3rd January. Customers will be receiving a letter showing our availability over the Christmas period.
Are you a Durham Business Club member with a positive story to share from 2020? If so, get in touch with details so that we can share it on the website and in our newsletter.