Coronavirus Business Expansion

SE Workwear Expansion




Coronavirus has taken South East Workwear in exciting new directions that have kept the business and its owner Ady Burton “incredibly busy”.

At first, the impact of lockdown meant the company’s large workwear shop in Abingdon in Oxfordshire had to close, although it reopened in June – like other retailers – with a counter for serving customers one at a time. “The business model has changed to click and collect for all the workwear.”

Several of the 20-strong workforce had to be furloughed, with some made redundant from July, but Ady and the sales team remained on site – socially distant – bringing in orders. “It makes you re-evaluate the business unfortunately and there are certain areas where we can save a bit of money.”

As a long-time supplier of NHS uniforms, the main driver of sales has been PPE, such as surgical gowns, face masks, aprons, gloves and hand sanitiser. “We were doing a lot for the NHS and councils anyway, and when it all kicked off, they started asking us to get PPE,” Ady explains. After initial challenges sourcing high-quality products, a partnership with a company in Taiwan has opened up supplies. “A few months ago we would never have even looked at those sorts of products but now we have got a great supply chain coming through and pretty much as soon as they’re coming in, they’re gone.”

Workwear has not completely dried up, such as former nurses needing uniforms before they return to work. There has also been demand for waistcoats with social distancing messages and Helly Hansen shorts and T-shirts packs, leading to one of the furloughed printers being called back in. “That is our core business so we do still need to keep thinking about that even though it’s much more fun buying in PPE and just selling it. You don’t have to do anything with it!”

While South East Workwear was able to get a Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan, it wasn’t eligible for any other government support.

“Our landlord was good and gave us a month free which is something. That loan isn’t going to last forever so we’ve got to really start getting moving again. Even though we’ve had the money coming in through the PPE, the margins are quite tight so it’s really just kept us ticking over really, even on the volumes that we’ve been doing. The business still has big overheads even with staff furloughed. There’s machinery costs, the rent – the money is still coming out of the business.”


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