“RETAILERS CAN COUNT ON OUR SUPPORT”

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We haven’t worked so hard for a long time, says this dedicated business owner in his lockdown diary for ETN.

Malcolm Ainge is chairman of Shires Equestrian Products. 

The Herefordshire based company he founded more than 50 years ago – when Malcolm sold loaned stock at local cattle markets - is now a leading global brand with distribution hubs in America and Ireland. Shires also has its own factory in China. 

“How things can change in a very short space of time,” says Malcolm, reflecting on the coronavirus pandemic. 

“It doesn’t seem long since I flew to and from the USA in January, and I was on the tube in London in early March. We took ease of travel for granted. When will we be able to travel so freely again?

Trump made decision for me

“In late March, I had a ticket booked to the USA again. I was agonising over whether or not I should go, when Donald Trump made the decision for me and barred UK people from entry. 

“I’m glad he did, because had I gone, I would probably still be there now! 

“I have another ticket booked to the US in August. Will I be able to travel? Probably not. 

“That reminds me, I’m still waiting for a voucher for my flight in March. It’s impossible to get in touch with British Airways. Hopefully they will get around to sending me a voucher at some stage…

Police visit

“Since then, the world has changed dramatically. Shires is still open and I consider ourselves fortunate that we are still able to trade - in spite of a visit from the Police and Trading Standards. 

“However, our workforce of 80 has reduced to 20, four of whom are directors. We haven’t worked so hard for a long time. We have had to furlough 60 of our staff. 

“Being of a certain age, my family insisted that I stayed at home which I did for ten days, until I realised that two of our skeleton staff are in their 60s. 

“I didn’t feel comfortable hiding myself away while others took a risk for the company, so I’ve been back at work for the last three weeks. 

35% normal turnover

“We will turnover about 35% of what we would normally turnover in April, but it’s better than nothing.

“Our Irish warehouse is closed. We closed our US warehouse for a while, but as we are in New Hampshire and Covid-19 is not too bad there, we were allowed to open. 

“Our sales there are mainly drop ship orders that we are despatching on behalf of our [retail] customers. Not great business but once again, better than nothing. 

Bright spot

“The one bright spot is our factory in China. We were a week late opening after Chinese New Year but have been in full production ever since. 

“Hopefully the products we are making will be in demand in the autumn; although who knows what the situation will be by then?

Government help

“I think the Government has done a good job on behalf of business, in spite of constant criticism. If we hadn’t been able to furlough our staff, we would probably have had to make some redundant. 

“We have taken advantage of a Coronavirus Business Interruption loan. It replaces our overdraft, so there is quite a saving there. 

“I continue to make a nuisance of myself with our local council who still insist on charging us £100,000 per annum in business rates. I don’t think they like me very much - but if it saves us part of that, I will be more than happy.

Count on our support

“I don’t think we will have a V-shaped recovery; but the equestrian trade is very resilient and I’m sure we will all make the best of the new normal, whatever that might be. 

“I also hope the riding public will support their local retailers when they re-open. They can count on our support.”

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