With its huge impact on everyday operations and trading conditions, coronavirus is making life difficult – and potentially dangerous – for virtually every kind of business.
For ethical businesses like ours though, the challenge of doing the right thing while surviving commercially can be especially big.
At Friendly Soap we’re an ethical business making a wide range of vegan products at our West Yorkshire base. We’d been following the coronavirus news reports from China carefully in the weeks leading up to the UK crisis, so we were able to act preemptively as soon as we realized the situation might get serious here too. This gave us about a month’s head start, which enabled us to stockpile items like our base oils, packaging materials and even our finished products themselves.
We also quickly contacted our distributors to reassure them they wouldn’t be left without stock. I think they really appreciated that, which is partly why they’ve stayed so loyal and are keeping the orders coming in.
In terms of our everyday manufacturing operations, the first thing we did – back in late February – was to consult with our staff and give them the chance to stop work, or, where possible, work from home. We felt like the only fair way to look after our employees properly was to listen to their concerns and give them the option. We understand everyone’s situation is different and we didn’t want individuals to feel remotely pressured or judged.
We didn’t want to abandon ship, and for us it’s crucial to be on site to support our staff there; we’d never expect them to work on site if we weren’t prepared to ourselves.
Luckily, many of our staff have opted to continue coming in, so we can maintain our production requirements but still adhere strictly to the advice around physical distancing. We’ve reconfigured our workspaces to help with this, and we’re down to just one person in each key department, like the post room, the warehouse office and the top office.
Rob [Costello] and I are taking it in turns to come in too, working from home on alternate days. We didn’t want to abandon ship, and for us it’s crucial to be on site to support our staff there; we’d never expect them to work on site if we weren’t prepared to ourselves.
In terms of the financial impact, we count ourselves extremely lucky that our product is one that’s in demand. This isn’t something we ever planned for, so we certainly don’t deserve any credit for that. While trade and high street sales of our products have fallen massively, online sales have almost made up for that so we hope we can stay trading for as long as it takes.
I feel desperately sorry for the many good businesses whose customer base has shrunk, or even disappeared, almost overnight – so much of that is down to sheer bad luck, not bad management. We can only hope that this dreadful coronavirus crisis ends as quickly as possible, for all our sakes.