Running a wedding and events company during lockdowns was hard enough for Celia Gaze.
But now restrictions have lifted, the boss of The Wellbeing Farm in Bolton faces yet another huge challenge.
The current national shortage of HGV drivers means that crucial products are not available at her usual suppliers.
Events company owner Celia Gaze has struggled to get hold of all kinds of items for the weddings she puts on – from gin to canapes – thanks to the HGV driver shortage
Celia is spending hours trying to track down items from other outlets to ensure that the weddings she oversees are not ruined.
‘There are so many shortages it’s unbelievable,’ says Celia, 51. ‘You often only find out at the last minute that half of the products are out of stock or simply missing from the delivery when it arrives.’
Empty shelves and limited choice have become a common sight at some big supermarket chains, as a result of the logistics nightmare caused by factors including Covid, Brexit issues and a shortage of truck drivers.
Fears: Celia Gaze runs an events firm
But, for Britain’s small businesses, the problem is no less acute. Celia has struggled to get hold of a wide range of items, from gin to canapes – and even carbon dioxide dispensers. The uncertainty makes it near impossible to plan menus.
‘We’re very busy due to the pent-up demand for weddings, but I’m constantly having to rush off to supermarkets and cash and carries to try to replace missing items,’ she says.
‘Amazon has been a lifeline as it’s rarely out of stock. But, it means I’m spending far more time and money on getting everything, which eats into our profits.’
Celia has bought a second freezer to build up stock reserves, but fresh products can only be delivered on or close to the big day, meaning a nerve-shredding wait to find what is out of stock.
‘One day I just couldn’t get any blinis anywhere, which were vital for the canapes,’ she says. ‘Eventually I found a bakery that could supply them, but at four times the normal price.’
Due to Celia’s efforts, no couple has yet been aware of the drama behind the scenes, but it is hard work in a business still reeling from 2020. ‘It’s an added pressure on top of everything else,’ she says.
Alex Stewart, 32, is trying to expand his eco-friendly travel bag company OneNine5.com, but global events are working against him.
Based in South London, Alex was hoping to launch a range of laptop sleeves made from natural coconut fibres in time for the new school term and people returning to work after the summer holidays. However, he is struggling to source raw materials from China.
‘The pandemic and Brexit and even the blockage in the Suez Canal have all had a huge impact on our business,’ he says.
‘The cost of freight has gone up and we’re now bringing products in by rail, which is struggling to cope as everyone is switching to rail freight.
‘I’m now ordering larger shipments to make sure we don’t run out of stock, but that’s obviously had an impact on our cashflow and what we can invest in the business. It’s been a massive pain and really frustrating.’
The dearth of HGV drivers has caused supply issues for all kinds of businesses
Martin Gerhard, 50, has been trying to buy stock in preparation for Christmas since the start of the year. Without this forward planning, he may not have had products to sell during his busiest period.
The former marketing manager set up online gift retailer Boostology when he lost his job due to the pandemic last year.
South London-based Martin had to take a loan to buy the extra stock in advance, and as a result he has less to spend on marketing.
‘Buying products in February for Christmas seemed absolutely ridiculous, but it’s do or die,’ he says. ‘Small businesses that haven’t been able to do the same may have a very stressful Christmas.’
Mike Cherry, chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, warns that supply chain issues threaten to derail the economic recovery.
‘Small businesses are doing all they can to tackle the HGV driver shortage, but this now demands high-level Government intervention,’ he says.
‘No10 should form a Cobra-style cross-Government taskforce, with business representation, to address the current and growing disruption and to agree a plan of action and timeline to save the recovery through the autumn and to Christmas.’
A year of supply problems
Stephanie Marshall has had supplier troubles at her Stockport-based company Treehouse Bakery since last year.
Stephanie, who makes vegan recipe kits for home bakers, had to delay her company launch several times in 2020 as cash and carries were not taking on new customers and she struggled to find some ingredients.
‘I started to notice it was harder to find some ingredients, such as cocoa powder and flour, several months ago,’ says Stephanie, 31. ‘Soon, other products such as Jammie Dodgers and branded vegan products were also hard to find.’
She still does not know from one day to the next which products will be available from suppliers.
‘I had a big order for brownies a few weeks ago, but couldn’t get all the cocoa I needed,’ she says. ‘I had to go to the cash and carry first thing for three days in a row to get enough.’
Small Business Essentials
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