Coping with Covid on two different fronts

When asked what the initial impact of the Covid-19 crisis was on her businesses, Louisa Humphrey is frank, describing it as ‘financially terrifying’, largely due to the huge uncertainty everyone was facing.

But like many Islanders, she and her partner, Mick Loughlin, have sought and found many positives during the crisis, such as having time to reflect, being able to do things you normally would not and, not least, the community spirit and generosity that has shone through in Jersey.

‘We loved the quiet roads, the rebooting of our “personal” computers, and having the opportunity to remodel the business and make some plans,’ said Ms Humphrey.

‘It gave us all an opportunity to appreciate having a job and I do believe gratitude was apparent in many areas. I loved rediscovering Jersey, eating locally, and walking round the lanes. It made people creative and made us think outside our usual boxes, some ideas and practices of which will stay with us in the long term both at work and at home.’

She was quick to add that the government support programme for businesses provided the timely aid so many businesspeople like her needed, as well as two of her staff in Artizen’s bespoke furniture and fittings workshop, who had just bought a home.

‘The co-funding scheme saved the day for many businesses, and really helped immensely in us keeping on all of the staff and promising them a job on the other side,’ she said.

‘This was particularly important to two members of staff who had just passed contract on houses within the weeks prior to the lockdown.

‘Being able to pay the staff, gave them all confidence in our commitment to carrying on as a business, as our staff were genuinely worried.

‘I think the first six weeks for us were genuinely the worst, where the “not knowing” was so consuming. Seeing what was happening around the world, was like watching a tsunami approach, and not being able to do anything to avoid it.’

With restrictions easing, business has picked up for Artizen, with Ms Humphrey believing that clients may have more money to spend on their home, having been denied the ability to go on holiday or go out to restaurants and bars.

‘Coming out the other side has been extremely busy,’ she said.

‘The jobs that were placed on hold were all put back on schedule, and even new jobs came in during our closed months.

‘I’m sure that people were sitting at home looking at areas where they have always wanted a new cabinet, or even realised that their kitchen was past its best and gave us a call. And we’ve done a few home offices in the last month, which is perhaps a new trend.’

She added that regular clients were massively supportive of the business, with all invoices being paid in record time.

‘We had lovely phone calls from clients, checking that we were okay, and that was really heartwarming,’ she said.

‘I’ve never had clients pay as quickly as in the last month. Normally we’d have to wait two or three weeks for people to pay, or sometimes longer. I’ve been having people pay on the day that I give them a bill. I’m not chasing anyone.’

Mr Loughlin explained that the imposition of the lockdown had been heart-breaking for Vinifera, based in Broad Street, which had only launched a few months earlier.

He said, however, that a loyal client base once again provided huge support for the business.

‘Our clients have been amazing. They knew that we had Vinifera and loved it as well,’ he said.

‘There were customers literally buying thousands of pounds worth of wine. They didn’t necessarily need it. They just said: “Would it help if we order some wine?”.’

Ms Humphrey added that they used the lockdown as an opportunity to develop Vinifera’s premises and expand its business model.

‘Vinifera has now been granted a licence for outside, which really helps,’ she said.

‘They built up loyal customers and that has kept us going. Obviously the first two months were devastating and terrifying – it was a new business that relies on socialising being forced to close. But Amar, our business partner, has done an amazing job.

‘We have worked on the tasting room basement, we put a new floor down in the main shop, and he did online wine tasting sessions for the corporate market over Zoom, which were well received. Amar delivered wine on his moped all over the Island, just to keep things ticking over, and is studying for further qualifications.

‘And now it’s paid off, the shop is open for wine drinking again, albeit with distancing in place. And the al fresco will be enjoyed for the rest of the summer.’

Mr Loughlin and Ms Humphrey both paid tribute to the efforts of Beverley Le Cuirot, who launched a Facebook support group for small businesses during the crisis.

‘She was able to listen to and really condense the thoughts and requests of business owners very easily,’ said Mr Loughlin.

‘She sent you the links for stuff to read things and as soon as the information came out, she’d send you the draft of what was going to be discussed in the States.

‘So you’d see it even before it was made public.’

Ms Humphrey added: ‘Beverley Le Cuirot was incredible. Her Facebook page was my main source of information. She was in regular contact with States Members and received guidelines ahead of time. I cannot thank her or praise her enough for her commitment to small businesses. It helped with all of our wellbeing, which is always her main aim.’

Looking back on the last few months, the pair agreed that a number of lessons have been learned, which could make them better business people in the future or help them cope if physical-distancing restrictions are tightened again.

‘I think the main thing that we have learned is to not take anything for granted – it can be taken away so quickly,’ said Ms Humphrey.

‘I am also so conscious of supporting local even more than ever. Especially to those businesses that still can’t open their doors. I think what we were most surprised about was how it has affected every single person, not just one sector, and in such ways that we would never have imagined.’

She added: ‘All-in-all we learned some lessons, but we feel that we may have turned a corner for both businesses.

‘We just need to pray that we won’t be locked down again, and that if restrictions come back, we are all prepared and we know how to deal with them.

‘After all, the Island is raring to go out and socialise. And we are ready and waiting.’

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