Chris and Melanie Winstanley

Covid-19: a view from a small business

It is hard to believe that by this time last year we were all locked down and told to stay at home. I remember enjoying Algarvean spring walks with the dog around the beautiful foothills of Monchique close to where we live.

“It will be great to get back to normal in the summer when the heat will wipe out this dreadful disease that preys on the old and infirm,” I thought to myself, yet here we are emerging from Lockdown 2.0, 3.0, 4.0 … I have lost count and am still having the same thoughts a full year on.

Whilst the pandemic has caused countless misery to so many from a health perspective, it has also caused months of worry and concern to thousands of small business owners here in Portugal as the world economy has had to endure the necessary stop/start approach to coming out of recession that governments have had to follow.

One thing business owners hate is uncertainty and we have certainly had this commodity in bucketfuls. There has been an amount of central government support with employee lay-off schemes, grants for tourism businesses and low-interest loans to ensure business continuation.

The Portuguese government has not had as large pockets as many other countries and has not been great at continuity in delivering these support packages. Back in February, the way we were told to pay our IVA bill changed four times, with the final instruction received literally hours before the deadline. This has made the task of managing cash flow similar to the activity of juggling jelly!

With people spending a lot of time at home and not using their disposable income on holidays and meals, our ranges of outdoor furniture and barbecues have benefited greatly and have surfed the wave of Covid better than many others, with people wanting to upgrade their outdoor areas. In fact, we had some record sales last summer after the first lockdown eased.

If I think doing business in a pandemic has been challenging, it has been much harder for anyone involved in tourism and hospitality where they have been asked to trade in unsustainable ways with reduced client numbers making business uneconomic.

However, the Covid-19 pandemic is causing issues and uncertainty far beyond the obvious health outcomes, and the strong recovery we initially experienced with our market in full swing has come with economic consequences. To name a few examples:

■ Shortage of containers from the Far East
■ Longer sailing times and extremely high transport rates
■ Shortage of raw materials
■ Delayed production from suppliers due to measures around Covid-19
■ Disrupted production due to labour shortages
■ And, quite recently, the blockade of the Suez Canal, causing massive delays

With these issues in mind, our company planned our stock position as high as possible whilst not knowing when we would be allowed to re-open, for how long and if we are going to be able to see international travel restored, which is the life blood of the Algarvean economy. So, it is fair to say that, as a business owner in the Algarve, the last three months would best be described as challenging!

All the above said, as the season changes to the warmth of summer, it is also great to reflect that I have appreciated the flexibility and understanding of my team as they have moved in and out of lay-off. We emerge from a year of uncertainty a stronger and more determined team.

Equally, the benefit of long-term relationships with suppliers and clients has made me understand and appreciate, more than ever, that business is far more about communication, trust and adaptability than managing by contractual agreements.

There is also something exciting about emerging into the light now we have re-opened and not knowing how the season will turn out. Which you could argue is no different to any other year! But appreciating your business is still here, you work with some special people and have some great products cannot help but bring a smile to your face.

Good luck everyone! I’ll see you on the other side of the summer.

By Chris Winstanley

Chris Winstanley is the owner of Moveison Outdoor Living store, near Lagos