When the pandemic shut the economy down, The Liverpool Cheese Company lost a large revenue stream as wedding cake orders stopped overnight and they were forced to close their cheese ‘school’ immediately.
But cheese-loving boss Vickie Anderson and partner Ian Tomlinson adapted by rebuilding the website to stock more than 200 different products – selling them to all corners of the United Kingdom.
They are now doing around 250 orders per week online, with year-on-year e-commerce takings up tenfold.
She finds many customers are buying cheese as gifts for loved ones, and without being able to speak to an expert face-to-face, they’re ordering special selection packages depending on the season and events.
Vickie, 58, said: “We started selling online in 2009 but it was only very small, we’d do a few orders per week.
“We revamped the website three years ago and when the pandemic hit, we knew we needed to adapt again. We spent the first lockdown getting everything online, using a Funding Circle CBILS loan.
“We wanted to get the site ready for October ahead of Christmas so people could access the full range. It means we’ve been able to close the shop during the lockdown.
“Financially the results have been great, but we miss the customers. We can’t wait for things to return to normal when we can get back to doing some proper cheesemongering.”
Alongside revamping the e-commerce side of the business, Vickie also bought a new van, and her team is doing between 20 and 50 deliveries per day in the local Liverpool area.
She financed the web development and the van through a government-guaranteed CBILs loan, which was facilitated by Funding Circle.
Her experience is shared by Funding Circle as the online SME loan platform publishes a new report which highlights how small and medium sized businesses have adapted in the face of an unprecedented economic situation brought on by the pandemic.
It paints a picture of innovation amongst Britain’s company bosses and how they have looked to diversify their offerings.
The report, produced by Oxford Economics as CBILS draws to a close at the end of the month, reveals how Funding Circle has approved almost 17,000 CBILS loans totalling £2.6 billion as of Feb 2021, and is now the third largest lender under the scheme.
In a survey of SME bosses, more than half (56 per cent) said without finance they would have faced an impact on investment.
Vickie, who employs four full-time staff and six part-time, said: “The CBILS loan helped us to adapt, enabling us to invest in the business and help grow it.
“The new van is great for marketing when the delivery team is out on the road and the revamped website has revolutionised our online offering while also providing us with valuable trends and insights.
“Online shopping is not going to go away. People want to be able to order something in bed at midnight so it’s important to provide them with a good service.
“We find that customers like us to use our experience to choose for them, so we create special selection packages depending on the season and events.
“We’re now selling cheese to people all over the UK and we’ve got regular customers from London to Aberdeen and everywhere in between.
“All our staff have worked through the whole period and we’ve not needed to furlough anyone or put them on shorter hours.”
Oxford Economics estimates lending through Funding Circle in 2020 has contributed £7.5 billion to UK GDP and supported 100,000 jobs – lending to businesses in 378 of the 379 UK local authority districts.
A greater share of Funding Circle’s lending went to businesses in Yorkshire and the Humber, the Midlands, and the North West, compared to the overall CBILS scheme.
Without government-guaranteed loans, 16 per cent of SMEs surveyed by Funding Circle feared they would have gone out of business, while 14 per cent would have made job cuts.