Starting a new business can be a daunting prospect at the best of times. But during a pandemic? birkenhead.news spoke to four Wirral business owners who have done just this and we get to grips with the ups and downs of business life during these testing times.
Emily Gleaves is not new to owning and operating her own business, but she took the bold step of rebranding and expanding her business just before the first national lockdown came into force. birkenhead.news asker her what problems she encountered due to the lockdown as she was about to launch “Waste Not Want Not“, on Market Street in Birkenhead, earlier this year.
“There’s no such thing as a problem.”, she said. “This is determined by how you look at things. I don’t really plan, I take things as they come, everything works out amazingly well if you don’t stress!
“There was lots of building work that needed doing, floors putting down, plumbing work, decorating, etc. One challenge I faced was I needed some vinyl floor laying, the quotes where ridiculous so I decided to do that myself with the help from the builder and a customer, we smashed it! Probably a few more things along the way but as I said I don’t really see things as problems so won’t remember them!”
Magdalena Jankiewicz started selling home-made candles under the ‘Foxy Candles‘ brand during the pandemic and she told birkenhead.news that the biggest issue she faced was when the second lockdown started. “I wanted to expand from online sales to wholesale and stocking the candles in local shops. Unfortunately, as the second lockdown started, local small businesses have found it very difficult, and in some cases they have been unable to take on new products.”, she said. “I have always enjoyed making them, and I love to pick the scents. The pandemic has been a difficult time for everyone. I find making candles and melts to be very calming.”
West Kirby based ‘Bakes by Nina‘ launched in September 2020 during the second wave of the pandemic. During the first lockdown, Nina White started baking more and more, and planned to set up her own business including having a purpose-built kitchen constructed in her garden. She said, “I have struggled with anxiety and my mental health for many years. I had to leave education early and didn’t feel able to do many things so was anxious about my future. I have enjoyed baking as a hobby for years and found that it gave me a distraction from my anxieties. I recently decided that I would like to develop the hobby that I love into a small business.”
On the challenges that she encountered, Nina said, “I had to put thought into the obstacles that the pandemic created for my business. I offer contact-free collections for everyone’s safety.” Talking about differences in the sales market due to COVID-19 restrictions, she said, “Obviously, large gatherings aren’t allowed at the moment but I talk to my customers about how I can adapt their bakes to suit their requirements.”
Jean MacLeod, decided to start her new business shortly after the first lockdown ended. By September, she had opened her artisan gift studio, ‘Jeanie Loves‘ on Chadwick Street in Moreton. Prior to the pandemic, Jean made wedding dresses, but the lockdown effectively put a full stop to any new work coming in. “Like many in the wedding industry, my client base was decimated during the first lockdown.”, she said. “As an alternative, I began making Bridal headwear and jewellery and selling online.”
“At the end of the first lockdown, I had a pop-up unit for a week with a few other crafts at the Woodside ferry village. My jewellery was well received but it was apparent from discussion with my fellow crafters, that sales opportunities continued to be limited as the usual flurry of craft fairs and Christmas markets had all been cancelled.” And so, the idea for ‘Jeanie Loves’ was born.
Jean thought things were going well until the second lockdown which was right at the start of her busy Christmas sales period. “As I have 20 small businesses to consider as well as my own, I decided to try taking Jeanie Loves online as a Facebook shop. We are almost fully set up now and hoping to ride the storm by keeping the window interesting and creating gift sets from our products to enable click and collect purchases.”
It is apparent from speaking to everyone involved in contributing to this article that, now more than ever, planning and adapting are fundamental to the success of their businesses. One constant that is glaringly obvious in speaking to these four women is that they all have incredible strength in the face of adversity. Not only are each of them finding solutions to challenges that present themselves, but they are also looking to the future.
Magdalena is talking of expanding the range she offers from the handmade candles and melts, to also include reed diffusers. “I know that money is tight for everyone, so I make little treats at the smallest cost possible, so people can still enjoy them in such an uncertain time. After sharing them with family and friends, I had lovely positive comments. I know it’s taking a chance, as times are very uncertain. But I love what I do, and it’s an opportunity to do more for my family.”, she said.
Emily Gleaves is looking to promote her online sales and now that she has staff in the shop, she can spend time on that aspect of the business. She is a very committed and very busy person already, “I do talks in schools, and hold workshops in schools and other organisations. My plan was to hold workshops at the shop, I’ll plan these for when COVID-19 eases. I also consult businesses on how to be more environmentally friendly and energy-efficient.” Emily is well prepared for this aspect, having 12 years experience in the energy industry prior to setting up her first business and she is the Green Party candidate for Birkenhead and Tranmere ward and hopes to become a councillor at next year’s local elections.
Jean MacLeod says that she has great confidence for the future and that she can continue trading in 2021 using all the options that she is currently putting in place. “Should a further period of lockdown come into force, we will do everything in our power to help our lovely collective of small businesses to survive. I haven’t been able to access any real grants or funding and can’t have a bounce back loan as it ends in January and the earliest appointment I could with my bank was February. It’s been a tough ride that’s for sure!”
On what the future holds for ‘Bakes by Nina’, even having only recently started her business, Nina is already excited for the future and for expanding the business. “I look forward to coming up with new flavours, designs and ideas. And when the pandemic settles down, being able to do events and interact more with my customers. I’m extremely grateful for the support I have received so far and I’m overwhelmed by people’s response. I can’t wait to see where ‘Bakes by Nina’ will go!”
These are four inspiring women who have overcome adversity in various forms, and will no doubt emerge from the pandemic with even more pride, confidence, and strength than ever before.
In the run-up to Christmas, please remember to shop local!
Jeanie Loves, 5 Chadwick Street, Moreton. Facebook Jeanie Loves – Jean MacLeod
Bakes by Nina. Facebook Bakes by Nina – Nina White
Waste Not Want Not – Zero Waste Shopping, 63 Market Street, Birkenhead. Facebook Waste Not Want Not – Emily Gleaves
Foxy Candles. Facebook Foxy Candles – Magdalena Jankiewicz