By Johnathan Bulmer, MD of Cleveland Containers
When the first lockdown began, we had only just moved into a new office and depot to house our expanding team. After two weeks in our new headquarters, we had to send staff members home at short notice, much like businesses all over the country. To begin with, it was a bit disjointed having many working from home, but this was to be expected as we had never faced a challenge like this before.
We furloughed ten members of staff at first as we couldn’t predict what was going to happen but, after three weeks, four had returned to working. By July 2020, almost everyone was working again, whether at home or in the office, and when construction sites and other businesses were allowed to open again, enquiries for containers picked up once more. To accommodate the rise in enquiries and subsequent orders, it was evident that we needed to employ new members of staff immediately across the entire business, and welcomed new additions to the sales, admin, transport, and marketing teams. This resulted in a record-breaking year for Cleveland Containers in which the business grew by 73% and sold 15,866 containers, a 67% increase on the previous year.
So, how did we turn our situation around? Here’s our top lessons that we learnt from trading in the pandemic.
Whatever happens, keep going
We were in a fortunate position because we were able to continue trading. As the pandemic emerged in the UK, sales did slow to start with for a couple of weeks and we considered pulling back on both advertising and the ordering of stock. However, we decided the best thing to do was to keep going and persevere, pushing harder as there was still a need for containers, and we could see these opportunities. I believe this was the key decision that enabled Cleveland Containers to thrive during the pandemic. It would have been easy to shut down and stop ordering but we decided to carry on. We knew that if our competitors closed, then we would be there for people who were in need and searching for our products. There was an increased demand for self-store containers and units for retail stock during this time and we were able to serve.
Have technology in place to help you adapt
Fortunately, we have software in place that allows all staff to connect remotely to the server enabling them to access all necessary files from work laptops, as well as a phone and cloud-based CRM system that can be used from home. This helped the business run as smoothly as it could, given that everyone was working separately.
It’s difficult to say what the future will bring, but it’s vital to have the infrastructure in place to allow everyone to work remotely.
Don’t forget the numbers
We are a business driven by data. Always look at the numbers because the numbers don’t lie. A lot of what we do is influenced by data and customer feedback, such as looking at which products we are selling a high amount of and ordering more of those and understanding what our customers want and are asking for. Investigating the quality of our enquiries allowed us to save a lot of money on advertising and invest the money we saved into other areas. We also focus on our weaknesses, looking at what we are not doing well and trying to fix that.
People make the place
Invest in your team and reward them for their efforts. We do as much as we can in-house: it’s the people you bring in that helps the company grow. At Cleveland Containers, we are all in one boat and everyone is rowing to keep us at the forefront of the market. We have an open office and, no matter what the team, everyone gets involved.
The phrase ‘look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves’ comes to mind – if you have motivated and passionate staff, they will work hard and grow alongside the business.
Digital investment is crucial
Invest in marketing and digital systems. Our website is integrated with a bespoke CRM system that processes all enquiries and orders as well as the transport of containers, streamlining operations and keeping all data and information in one place. Don’t neglect your website as it is your shop front, it needs to be user-friendly and consistent with all other social channels and marketing materials. We put a huge focus on marketing to build our brand. Brand awareness is one area that businesses can often overlook if they are too focused on sales only. You need to be memorable, or you will fade into the background.