Businesses look back over a very challenging year

This has been a year like no other for businesses of all sectors.

Here we speak to some of our local business people to hear their thoughts on 2020 and their hopes for 2021

Smart Solutions

One of the UK’s largest recruitment agencies, Smart Solutions, has been reflecting on an unprecedented year for the country, the business and its staff, and ahead to promising 2021.

Despite a challenging year for the company, like many others, the UK and EU-wide business has recently recorded its highest ever daily worker figures, and has reached a monthly revenue peak for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic began here in March.

Although having to adapt their operations significantly, with staff working around the clock, Smart have this year launched unprecedented recruitment campaigns for sectors in desperate demand, such as recycling, logistics and food retail.

As part of the campaign, the company introduced its remote registration portal, allowing the full process for candidates to be managed online, from the registration, interview, candidate right to work and validation through to the timesheet approval and payroll. A huge success, the portal has to date seen more than 1,700 candidates registered and placed in jobs.

This year has also seen Smart Solutions introduce new systems, launch their enhanced onsite recruitment model, Onsite+, as well as unveil a brand-new website and rebrand of their marketing.

Looking ahead to 2021, the company is set to make a series of significant investments as part of its long-term business strategy. The largest investment will see a new focus placed on specialising its business units in a bid to offer a better service to both clients and candidates.

In addition, and bucking the trend of many offices closing and remaining empty across the country, Smart Solutions is set to open a new office in Bristol, a new Central Services hub, a new branch location in Blackpool, as well as expanding their EU offering.

Rob Webb, CEO of Smart Solutions, said: “While 2020 has been a year that no-one could have predicted, and certainly a very tough one for the county, the business and our staff, we’re very pleased to be finishing the year on a high, recording our highest ever daily worker numbers and reaching a revenue peak.

“Absolutely none of this would be possible without the hard work, commitment and resilience of our team during these truly difficult times. Throughout the past nine months our absolute priority has been the safety of our staff, clients and candidates, which we’ve been able to ensure thanks to adapting the way we operate and innovations like our remote registration portal.

“We have big plans for 2021, including placing a significant investment in our specialised business units, the expansion of our EU business, the opening of new branch locations, and of course placing a big focus on thanking our staff for their dedication throughout 2020, and are very much looking forward to the year ahead.”

Whitson Prestige

Rory Collingbourne, director of Whitson Prestige, said that despite a tough year, the business is finishing off the year well.

He said: “Despite a difficult and uncertain time for so many businesses, we feel lucky to have invested in growing the business and our team. Our social media presence is going from strength to strength and we’re known for being one of the leading used and approved prestige car dealerships in South Wales.

“Mid way through the year we struggled to find the right stock. The cars we were wanting to buy were all making large amounts of money in trade where stock in the UK was so low, meaning they were being sold at an inflated price.

“We found ourselves in a similar situation yet again last month, but decided to take a different approach and instead purchase less cars as a higher price. We felt confident there was a further lockdown pending and wanted to prepare for this by having the funds available to make sure we could buy the correct cars of the tight value next year, in 2021.

“We recognised the need to adapt and respond to the changes. Thanks to our high quality imagery and video footage, we have been able to continue selling cars.

“We have been lucky to have built such a positive and trustworthy online presence that our customers feel comfortable enough to buy a car online, without seeing it in person first – even during a pandemic! We deliver nationwide and cater to the wants and needs of our customers.

“With the best service on offer and the best hand selected cars. We’re proud of Whitson Prestige, including our dedicated team of car enthusiasts and professionals and how we have continued to adapt and respond to everything thrown at us.”

Cintec International

Peter James, managing director of Cintec, which is one of the sponsors of next year’s South Wales Argus Business Awards, said that operating amid a pandemic had been tremendously different, to say the least.

He said: “The pandemic has impacted how we do business, but we’ve persevered.

“When working throughout the UK, my teams were unable to book accommodation or meals, and my northern area salesman had to sleep in his car when he travelled to Aberdeen in the first wave! Travelling to Egypt and to mainland Europe was also stopped, which proved difficult for us with business being located out there.

“We found it tough when business dried up due to clients or their agents being in isolation. However this soon abated with work trickling through slowly, and then back to normal levels. Cost cutting and budget control was needed and embraced by the staff and our local subtractors to keep the company on an even keel.

“To overcome the issues that arose, I signed for an extension to our Cwmbran factory, so we diverted the labour force to carry out the necessary alterations to extend the factory. Then, as the lockdown eased we concentrated on work in the United Kingdom to fill in the gaps created by the embargo on international travel.”

Specsavers Newport

Specsavers in Newport continues to remain open for all eye care and hearing needs over the festive break – even throughout the most recent lockdown.

With the government recognising that opticians and audiologists provide essential health care services, Specsavers at Friars Walk and Spytty Road will keep its doors open to the public and offer a full breadth of services to the local community.

These include eye and hearing tests, contact lens consultations, frame repairs and the sale of glasses, contact lenses, hearing aids and other products. Specsavers’ home visiting opticians are also still offering appointments.

Despite fears that people may not be able to leave their local area for an eye or hearing appointment, government guidance says that customers can travel within, out of and into Tier 4 areas to attend medical appointments, including eye and hearing tests.

Jason Williams, Specsavers Newport director, said: ‘As an essential health service, we have provided optical and hearing care to people throughout our community throughout the pandemic and we are proud to be in a position to continue to do so. Guaranteeing the safety and wellbeing of our customers and our colleagues is our main priority, so we have adapted our ways of working and are adhering to strict government guidelines.’

These include restrictions on the number of customers allowed in store at any one-time, social distancing, and bank card instead of cash payments, where possible.

Keeping in line with NHS recommendations, Specsavers staff use personal protective equipment (PPE), wear face masks and gloves during tests, and all testing equipment and frames are thoroughly sanitised after each use. Customers are also asked to request an appointment in advance by phone or online through the Specsavers website to help manage social distancing. Anyone visiting the store will also need to wear a face covering.

In response to the pandemic, Specsavers has also introduced a number of ways to access services without leaving home, including RemoteCare - a free nationwide optical and audiology consultation service offering advice and care via video and telephone link. Glasses and contact lenses can also be bought online with a current prescription through the website.

RPS Telecom

Natalie Strange, operations manager, said: “We were fortunate as a business to be able to pick things up where we left off and seamlessly transition to working from home. As a result, we’ve successfully been able to transition many of our customers too, and have introduced new technologies such as our Communicator GO app and desktop application so they can work from home with no troubles!

“Going from an open office environment to being alone at home was a big change for us – lots of phone calls, video meetings and quiz nights have got us through these tough times and have helped us navigate through the pandemic. In response to Covid-19, we have adopted a more flexible working approach than ever before to work around members of their team and their requirements. We understand that the shift has affected all areas of our life, and we must be able to accommodate this.

“As a result of Covid-19 (if we’re going to find some positives to celebrate), we are a closer team and have adopted a sort of ‘make or break’ mentality.

“We hope that 2021 allows for businesses that have been hit hard by Covid-19, to bounce back and thrive like they once did. We pledge to continue supporting our customers in any way we can, to ensure they get the best from us to aid their businesses going forward.”

South Wales Argus | Business