Elaine Birchall, who is the Chief Executive of Schloer owner SHS Group, has spoken about how important it is that this time businesses remain open for good, as the prospect of another lockdown would be catastrophic for many of them as well as the economic climate as a whole. The SHS Group has a turnover of over half a billion a year and is certainly one of the biggest companies in the whole of Northern Ireland.
Expansion, Recovery & Brexit
Elaine, who was awarded an MBE this month for her services to economic development, is quoted in the Belfast Telegraph where she talks about the huge increase in costs which she attributes mainly to the Brexit issue. She also talks about how her Group are looking to expand as they recover from the effects of the terrible Covid-19 pandemic, admitting that it may take 12 months before they get back to pre-Covid business levels.
“The last six months we were very much still in the clutches of the pandemic,” she says.
“We all thought that last summer was going to give us a clear path to reopening but that just didn’t happen.
“We still experienced a radical reduction in out of home and food services as those sectors were shut down. That was more than compensated by grocery and convenience.
“In the backdrop of Brexit and the pandemic, we had a fairly well orchestrated season over Christmas.
“The availability and supply chains really did hold up.
“That’s down to performance, team and collaboration — listening to customers and demand patterns.”
The Move To Online Shopping Has Its Upside & Downside
On the upside and downside of online shopping she says:
“The advantage is a great new channel which has become available, particularly to the older generations.
“The downside is you don’t do the impulse shopping, the browsing of aisles and deals.
“We see a very different demand and buying pattern coming out of the pandemic. Whether some of those will be re-established is yet to be seen.”
We Must Stay Open Permanently
On rebuilding the business Elaine says:
“We have stuttered, but we have stuttered because of the impact of the pandemic,” she says.
“The favourable end of it is saying 6-7% (growth). I think that is determinant upon being able to open, and stay open.
“Secondly, for those businesses which have to re-establish a customer base, how are they going to essentially let their customers know that it is okay to come in to their locations on the high streets in a safe and secure way?
“I think it would probably be at least a year away from now before you really know where the rebase is, and which businesses are still thriving and which businesses need more help from government packages etc.
“The stimulus packages are really important. In terms of a return to high street, it’s about helping businesses get ready to help their customers feel safe.”
On Brexit she had this to say regarding the effect on her business:
“For us it was more our extended supply chains out of Asia and Europe and into GB,” she says.
“Those issues at the port, essentially, some of our suppliers saying it’s easier to do business with other countries, the cost and the fact that supply chains were taking longer meant that we had in some case in our commodities, a doubling or trebling of some of the timelines in a number of weeks and costs of shipping and transport, just to get materials into our factories.
“Have we had anyone walk away from the business? No. They have really leaned in to our skills and expertise which we have brought in.”
Some excellent points covered here by the Chief Executive of the SHS Group Elaine Birchall. If you have a business that requires some help getting up to full speed once more after the pandemic please get in touch with our dedicated accountancy team by ringing us on 028 3752 2909.