Running a small business can be challenging at the best of times, especially when it relies on imports, exports and supply chains. And, right now, we are in anything but the best of times.
You’ve almost certainly read the stories about empty supermarket shelves and fast food chains running out of milkshakes.
The after-effects of Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic are being firmly felt and are further amplified by a shortage of HGV drivers and long shipping delays. Experts predict things will get worse before they get better.
But what does this mean for our Jewish community, other than a restricted choice on our next trip to the shops?
Small businesses and entrepreneurs are a huge part of our community – providing income, employment and opportunities for so many.
I spoke to three Jewish business owners, who use the WE Hub work and office space in Finchley, on how they have been hurt by Brexit and the pandemic. All are having very different problems, but all are connected to the same root causes.
Sam Feller, director of gourmet popcorn maker Popcorn Shed, is one who has experienced issues. Sam says the current situation has affected his company’s shipping containers from China and the USA – which means they are now costing 50-100% more than pre-pandemic levels and also taking a much longer time to arrive.
Oliver Shorts, of Seed and Bean Chocolate, is facing all sorts of red tape trying to get his organic products into the UK now we are no longer in the EU. He told me: “There are strict rules around importing organic products into the EU from non-members.
“The importing party must be a registered Organic Importer. If they’re not then you can’t deliver to them. We have two supermarkets, one in France and one in Germany, who aren’t registered so we now have to send the goods to our Belgium distributor who then sends them on for us. So it now costs us double in freight charges and takes much longer to arrive.”
The last business owner I spoke to was Jeremy Carson, the founder of Fit Kit Bodycare – a range of natural post-workout toiletries.
Before the pandemic, he had done amazingly well getting his products into the supermarkets, with Waitrose leading the way.
But once Covid hit, and browsing time in supermarkets disappeared, popular but niche products such as his took a big hit. People wanted to shop as fast as they could, which meant shoving recognisable brands into their trolleys and moving on.
Added into that has been the increased cost of raw materials. Jeremy’s bills from suppliers have gone up 15-20% with the thumbscrews particularly turned on small small businesses that find it harder to fight back. Then there are the added distribution and logistics costs.
Fortunately all three businesses I spoke to are adapting and surviving in this new environment, with Fit Kit Bodycare being reinvigorated after making the decision to move away from supermarkets and selling directly to consumers online instead.
So when we read stories about delays or supply problems in what seem like far off places, please remember that there are local Jewish-run businesses being affected every day. Fortunately with the right help and support most are still doing well.