‘SMEs like us are missing out on government support:’ TYLER & TYLER
Richard Tyler, co-founder of British men’s accessories brand TYLER & TYLER, explains the impact of the Coronavirus outbreak on his business and how the company – like many other SMEs – does not qualify for support through the government support grants and relief packages.
I run TYLER & TYLER with my brother Jonathan, a men’s fashion accessories brand that is part of a family-controlled Birmingham-based manufacturing company that has been making men’s fashion accessories for some of the UK’s leading fashion designers since 1969. We launched the brand in 2008. The company itself has actually been established for over 100 years.
Our range encompasses cufflinks, tie clips, collar stiffeners, lapel pins, men’s bracelets, blazer buttons, lapel chains, belts, socks, ties, bow ties and leather accessories (wallets, washbags, and messenger bags). We supply department stores, independent retailers and specialist stores in the UK and overseas, and have a small online business.
Like many businesses, we are facing great hardship through these unprecedented times but we’re also finding we are being left out of the current support packages from government. We fall into UKFT’s ‘The Forgotten Middle’ category.
We took the decision to close our business on Sunday March 22 to ensure the welfare of our staff and our business. The majority of our business as a company is supplying retail – so the minute the Government told retailers to close we knew we would not see any new business coming in. We work with metals and, although we were maintaining all the required social distancing measures, as the virus could live on the metals for some time so we felt it was the right thing to do to close.
We had a hard conversation with our team of 15 but they were really understanding. Each member of our team has been with us 25 years plus – so we have a very close relationship with them all. The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is a real lifeline to us and we completed our application for the scheme earlier this week.
As we pay our business rates in full, we are above the threshold for the Small Business £10k grant (for people who pay little or no rates). As manufacturers, we are not eligible for the £25k (up to) grant for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses who were specifically told to close by the government.
The text messaging from government to the general public to Stay At Home, Protect The NHS, Save Lives’ and subsequent letter to every household from the Prime Minister effectively forced businesses to close and yet there is no grant available to us.
Sadly, Birmingham City Council have only granted us a two-month Business Rates Holiday and yet I know of many other Councils that have given businesses three months. On the suggestion of the UKFTs Paul Alger I recently wrote to the council to raise my concerns. They were very responsive and informed me that they do have a proposal to deliver more financial support to SMEs but that they are awaiting authorisation from government.
We’ve tried to batten down the hatches where we can and we’re trying to pay our suppliers as best we can but we’ve found that our retailers have slowed their payments by asking for long extensions to payment terms. We’re trying to accommodate where possible but it is hard.
I’m still hearing complete horror stories about people applying for the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) and we are reluctant to go down that route but may change.
We have no intention of re-opening until the Government have said it is safe for us to do so, but I am now hearing of companies re-opening in the last week because they are unable to get a bank loan and cannot survive purely on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. With people going back to work, this may damage the national effort against the virus. I want to have a business at the end of this – everyone does – but we are missing out.
On both Business Rate Holidays and grant packages, it is really not a level playing field at the moment and I believe it is imperative that this is addressed. If we could get a grant like they have offered to retail, that would really help.
Our online store is open and we have a promotion of 30% off all orders which will be dispatched when we re-open and we’re donating £3 per purchase to the Intensive Care Society, which has been a nice positive thing but is nowhere near enough to survive.
While things are undoubtedly tough, there is great camaraderie in the industry and I’ve spoken to brands I’ve never spoken to before as a result. The newsletters from UKFT have far outshone anything I have read from anywhere else in terms of timely information specific to our industry, plus there is a real sense of community where we can share our experiences.
I also think it might change the way we do our business. There are some frightening things ahead but also hopefully some positive to come out of it too like virtual trade shows and the increase in online meetings, as opposed to people hopping on a plane to go to a meeting which will have less impact on the world we live in.
UKFT is in constant dialogue with the government and is outlining the latest support available for businesses on our website. We will update the details as and when the situation changes.