People and businesses everywhere have been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic. But here in Stoke-on-Trent and
Staffordshire, some businesses have done more than just survive. Many have changed business models, working practices or even completely pivoted to a very different economy, and some have even helped people or businesses in what is a very human crisis.
In this series of articles businesses share their stories and some of the pearls of wisdom they have picked up along the way.
Whilst everyone has done something different, they’ve also all benefited from some of the business support available – that can also help your business to thrive, not just survive.
Business Leader: Peter Crowder, Production Director
Company name: Charlie Crow (Party Shop Suppliers Ltd), Fenton, Stoke-on-Trent
Business activity (day job): Design and manufacture of children’s dressing up costumes. Supplier to wholesalers,
retailers, distributors, and have their own retail and online store.
Business activity during (Covid-19): Creating adult and children’s face masks
Pearls of wisdom to thrive not just survive: Innovate and get all the help that’s available – it makes a huge difference.
Growth Hub helps business realise business opportunities for survival
For a family-run business running for over 36 years, you’d have forgiven retailer and manufacturer of fancy-dress costumes Charlie Crow to call it a day when coronavirus hit.
“We’ve won many awards and sell to a worldwide audience,” says Production Director, Peter Crowder, “but with most of our products being used in schools, dance, theatre and other event-based activities, our sales dried up overnight. Fortunately, the furlough scheme meant that we didn’t have to lay-off our twelve highly skilled staff. However, that wasn’t going to be enough to keep the business afloat.
It did feel that we’d had a lot to come to terms with. Having come out of a global recession and then understanding what Brexit meant for us, coronavirus did make us feel that bad-luck really does come in threes.”
But then support from the Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Growth Hub gave Charlie Crow the life line they needed.
“We knew we had to innovate somehow, but that can be easier said than done,” continues Peter. “We contacted the Growth Hub who have been of great assistance over the last few months. Their regular updates on the situation, webinars and online workshops helped us to continue to believe in ourselves and focus on our skills.”
“Through the Growth Hub sessions, we knew that our strengths are in design and production. From what was happening in other countries, we could see that the use of face coverings was the way forward for our country.”
Inspiration for what the company hopes will be a winning move then came from an unexpected source – Peter’s children.
“I have two children, and know that some kids get frightened when they see people wearing medical masks. People look so different and that can be very scary for them. We have some fantastic animal fabrics in our range, and so I came up with the idea for a range of face masks that are fun and comfortable for both adults and children to wear for protection. So far, our designs include Leopard, Zebra, Giraffe, Dalmatian, Cow and Dinosaur. Surprisingly, the adult animal masks are selling as equally well as the children’s masks. We are proud to be a UK design and manufacturing company,” Peter said.
Some of Charlie Crow’s workforce have been with them for more than 20 years. “We have a highly skilled group of individuals who work with us,” Peter said. “We don’t want to lose anyone. Since face mask production began things have started to improve for us. We have everyone back at work on a part-time basis for now and hopefully we’ll be back to full production soon.”
“We now have a more diverse product range and customer base. Since we began producing the face coverings, we have started to look at other new and exciting products that we can add to our collection,” Peter said. “There’s a long way to go, but with September and the start of school just around the corner, we’re hoping that sales will start to pick up.”
So what is Peter’s pearl of wisdom for other businesses who may hit hard times in any future economic downturns?
“Think about innovation,” he says. “And remember, you’re not on your own. Don’t think that you’re isolated or the only company struggling. As with most things the bigger picture can often be painted negatively, but there are great stories at individual level that we can all learn from. Get out there and investigate all of the possibilities and the help available to you.”
Follow Charlie Crow’s lead with business support bespoke to you.
Charlie Crow has accessed a range of business support to help them through the crisis. The Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Growth Hub helped them when it mattered with regular updates, webinars and online workshops.