I’m losing sleep at night not for the future of the business but my staff

Hi folks. My first post here and more of a whisky fuelled rant than anything so apologies in advance if I’m going over ground which has been covered before. But I feel I need to get some stuff off my chest and vent a bit.

We’re predominantly a luxury table linen hire business and some wedding planners here may be aware of us.

We’re based in Glasgow but 30% of our business comes from England. We have experience of all sides of the industry. From 1996 to 2019, we had a thriving high-end event, party and wedding planning business (hence the name) and during that time we contracted countless suppliers. Photographers, florists, caterers, cakes, transport, entertainment you name it. The only reason we stopped was that our hire business was growing so fast that we wanted to focus on that and also we weren’t enjoying the stress of planning any more. We wanted a simpler, more systematic business that could grow and run without our direct, day-to-day involvement. So we know this industry from both sides – planner and supplier.

Like everyone else here, in March our world came crashing down overnight. On 16th March we had 27 people in permanent employment and we staff up in summer so if this weekend was during normal times, we’d have 33 people on our books manufacturing table linen, laundering said linen, delivering and collecting it, setting up, doing studio consultations, hiring chairs, charger plates and glasses to wedding planners, caterers, hotels & venues and of course wedding couples. We are now down to 19 staff – all on furlough and my wife and I are struggling to cope.

We’re lucky in that we’re getting some orders for small weddings and parties but there’s not enough work to warrant getting our staff back except for a day here and there. My wife is pulling 16 hour days dealing with 2021/22 enquiries and of course moving 2020 weddings. I’m doing laundry, packing orders, driving the van etc. We’ve also been fortunate in that hardly anyone has asked for a refund and most have been happy to move their deposit. That said, private clients only make up 15% of our revenue. The bulk comes from caterers, venues and event agencies but a large % of that is also wedding related. I would guess that 65% of our total business is wedding related even if we aren’t dealing directly with the end client. We’ve also been lucky in that we were pretty well funded pre-COVID and have had good support from Scottish Government and Glasgow City Council who both seem to be taking a more sympathetic approach to small biz than their English counterparts.

And yet…

I’m losing sleep at night, not for the future of the business but my staff. Post furlough I worry how I’m going to be able to pay them when there clearly won’t be even 10% of our normal revenue coming in. By Christmas, we’ll have lost substantially more than 7 figures of revenue and at some point, hard choices will need to be made. I know everyone says this, but we’re genuinely a great company to work for.

The average length of service is 7.5 years and we have a few who’ve been with us over 15 years and many over 10.

A lot of my staff come from deprived areas of the city. They have little in the way of qualifications and will struggle to find work in a crowded marketplace. I feel so guilty about what’s coming down the line even though it’s not our fault. But then I think about all the clients who are placing new orders and existing clients who’ve moved dates and realise that I also have a responsibility to them to make sure there’s still a business here next year to service their orders. Our business will survive but at what cost?

A few weeks ago, I was hopeful. Receptions for 30 were allowed in England but then Leicester went on lockdown, then parts of Lancashire and now Aberdeen which is a big market for us even tho it’s 160 miles away.

I’m now at the point where I can’t see a way out for our industry. Short of a vaccine appearing, these spikes are going to constantly occur and that’s the main reason (combined with weddings being typically drunken affairs with lots of dancing – like a club but without the drugs) why the government will not give us a roadmap or clarity. How can they?

The only way we’re going to get clarity is if the government come out and draw a line under things. “Listen, folks, there’s a virus out there and it’s bloody contagious. If your granny gets it, it’s probably not going to end well but chances are you’ll be ok. Just be sensible, wash your hands and don’t get too close to people you don’t sleep with unless you absolutely have to.” I genuinely believe this will happen at some point cos there ain’t an alternative really long term. The world has to get back to some sort of normality eventually vaccine or no vaccine.

But short term it’s not good. I want to doff my cap to everyone who is contacting their MPs and lobbying government but the sad fact is we’re dealing with a right-wing Tory government who really only care for big business and haven’t the foggiest about what we do. Sure they love going to a society wedding as much as the next man but they have no clue what hard work and number of suppliers that goes into producing such an occasion.

Anyway, I did say this was a bit of a rant and I’ve probably contributed fuck all to the conversation so apologies once again but it just feels good to be able to get something off my chest with folk who understand.

And as my dear Granny used to say, “there’s always someone worse off than you”. I know folk in the club trade and if you think our industry is on life support, theirs is currently bring served the last rites.

Finally, if there’s anything I can do that can help please let me know. As I said, I’m new here don’t know what’s gone before or been discussed but I’m a reasonably sized outfit and can shout loudly if I’m told what to say!

Thanks for listening.

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