Rebuilding a broken business ....during a pandemic. CONISTON STONECRAFT
Buying a business out of administration is always a risky strategy, especially when you know nothing of the industry. In February 2020 when Coniston Stonecraft called in the recievers and laid off the highly skilled workforce, the future looked bleak, the doors reopened and the workforce were re-employed on the 26 of the same month, and Brendan and Cherry Donnelly set about restoring its fortunes, not easy when you live in Staffordshire and the workshops are in the heart of the Lake District.
The list of jobs to do (and it’s always a good idea to have a list of jobs to work through) was huge, reinsure, reconnect, sort websites sort internet, inform all customers, check how staff feel, mend what’s broken, service machines, and start on any outstanding orders, thankfully there were some outstanding orders, and as we contacted customers there were more, not many but enough for a couple of weeks of work, and so we worked.
March 2020 is now famous for lockdown 1, so on the 23rd we shut the doors once again it was not a great feeling putting everything you have into a venture and then not even being allowed to start, but lockdown did give us time to appraise the business and to arrange the help I was going to need to make it succeed, essentially the business had all its eggs in 2 baskets, fell running medals and cafe slates, for the foreseeable future both of those were firmly shut, so the Donnelly’s decided to pursue other strategies, the website was updated, improved and expanded, and traffic increased steadily they started a series of collaborations working with like minded companies in a variety of sectors to design and manufacture products that their customer wanted and needed, they emphasised the eco credentials of their business and also its unique Britishness and they targeted companies that professed to want British craftsman made eco friendly products. By sticking to these principles they can now see their hard work paying off, ‘Stonecrafts order book is full, their web traffic has increased 800% and now accounts for about 40% of sales, and their collaborations are really starting to yield benefits (the first consignment of Westmorland green slate lampbases is delivered to Essex enroute to the USA this month). The workforce have been fantastic and are now settled and happy, and we have 2 new apprentices and a possible 3rd starting soon.
So what are the secrets of Stonecrafts success?
1. Understand where you are but know where you want to go
2. Use your contacts, we have no contacts in the slate industry, but we know people in print media, (a fantastic help when getting exposure in the local and regional press), we have cousins in the bike retail industry great for reusable double wall cardboard to wrap slate
3 use all your contacts, friends of friends, etc even if it’s just to bounce ideas off
4 Practice “slow selling” understand your customers needs, target customers you’d like to have and go the extra inch to ensure that it is a win-win for everyone
5 Have a clear vision, not just of where you are going but of how you would like the journey to progress, ie we want to only use locally hewn slate, Brazilian and Chinese slate is cheaper but if we let our customers know our ethos then they can chose to pay a little more for hand crafted Cumbrian slate products or a little less for cheap and nasty Brazilian tat
6. Don’t panic, don’t make undeliverable promises and don’t compromise your ethics, but try to inform your customers as much as possible about as much as possible, so each piece we make has a made in the lakes sticker with the craftsman responsible and the quarry where the slate originated on it.
We are now well on the road to mending this once broken business it’s been a rollercoaster journey but we are not where we want to be yet so we look forward with optimism and strive to get to the place we want to go to, and we are determined to enjoy the journey.