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A year of WeDo – Our Client’s Perspective – Mike Stonebridge

We want to use our network to encourage each other, build connections and offer advice. As much as we think we know it all (obviously!), we decided that the best way to offer advice to our clients is to create a community of sharing.

Our clients work across the sector and are ever-changing and ever-growing. By sharing knowledge and advice, we really feel like we can create a little WeDo community of like-minded businesses who want to see each other succeed.

This month, to celebrate our first anniversary in business, we spoke to one of our first ever clients, Mike Stonebridge of Advance LED Lighting Solutions, about his business, advice and knowledge.

Tell us about your company?

We are a manufacturer of LED lighting products providing energy efficient lighting solutions. Our main markets are the Retail, Point of Sale, Commercial, Refrigeration and Horticultural lighting sectors and our client list includes Boots, Next and Marks & Spencer amongst others. We have a design team who can take clients ideas and concepts and turn them into a reality using 3D CAD and Lighting layout design software. The resulting products are then  manufactured at our facility in Burton Upon Trent. The company was originally set up in 1998 and has gone through a few changes over the years, the most recent being a management buyout at the end of 2019.

How has working with WeDo helped you?

We started working with WeDo in December 2019, and soon discovered that their innovative approach helped the management buyout to go through as smoothly as could be expected. We have found their invoice finance facility to be quick, efficient and the systems have been easy to use. I’ve been in business since the 1990s and have worked with a number of invoice finance companies over the years, but I’ve found that WeDo are different from most. I don’t think we are their typical client but they spent time getting to know me and the business and are genuinely interested in what we do. I find their approach very refreshing as we are not just a number to them – we are real people. They have a very flexible approach and I feel that we work very well together.

How has this last year, with all its ups and downs, affected your business?

It has definitely been a challenge….. Back in December 2019, we had no idea what was just around the corner. By March we were just starting to take off after the buyout and everything was looking good, but then the Coronavirus hit us. For us it was particularly hard as the majority of our customers are in the retail sector and when all non-essential shops had to be closed during the lockdown period, most of our ongoing projects were either cancelled or delayed indefinitely and our forward order book just dropped off. I think at that point the uncertainty of not being able to forecast how long it would last and what the long term effects would be on the business was the most difficult. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel and business is finally picking up again.

What strategies have you put in place to keep surviving/growing during these times?

We managed to stay open throughout the pandemic which I think really helped as we were available for any urgent orders that customers wanted, which has had a positive impact on our profile with them. We used the government’s Job Retention Scheme scheme where appropriate but unfortunately we also had to reduce our headcount. We analysed all of our overheads and implemented a number of changes to reduce them, which has now placed us in a stronger position going forward.

Before the pandemic hit, we were exploring a number of other avenues including expanding our range of standard products and increasing our sales into the commercial lighting sector as this is one of the biggest markets – but inevitably the most competitive. During the lockdown period we accelerated this strategy as it was apparent that the retail sector was going to take a long time to recover from this, and the High Street would look very different with far more shopping done online. We have now launched a number of new and innovative products into this market, focusing on commercial property, warehouses and transport hubs, and this is where we see a growing market for the future.

Although the pandemic is still with us, and still having an effect, we see a strong future for us, especially in the new market sectors.

What one piece of advice would you offer to someone running a business?

Make sure your business forecast and plan is robust – you never know what’s around the corner. Also, get to know your customers and be willing and open to adapt to changing markets.

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