How one Suffolk manufacturer is navigating the COVID-19 storm

Stuart Dantzic, managing director of Caribbean Blinds
Stuart Dantzic, MD of Caribbean Blinds in Sudbury

By Stuart Dantzic, MD of Caribbean Blinds

The COVID-19 lockdown has been, and will be, the ruin of businesses across the world. To avoid becoming such a statistic, the team at Caribbean Blinds has worked hard to ensure we have plans in place to see us continue to grow and thrive. It means not making any knee jerk decisions that could damage the long term goals of the company, including ambitious plans to grow the company to an eight-figure turnover, in excess of £10m within the next five years.

Following the lockdown, Caribbean Blinds, like many businesses, suspended both our production and installation operations; a tough decision as this had never been done in the company’s 33-year history,

The office team moved to working from home and all front-end operations remained active, so existing and new projects could continue to be worked on. We didn’t feel it was the right time to go silent on clients and completely shut down so we used the time to remain in touch with our customers, give them peace of mind and build a sales funnel for when we re-opened, three weeks later.

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During our temporary closure, all operational processes have been fully reviewed and new risk assessments for every process have been created with key team members providing input. We have implemented strict COVID-19 measures to ensure the company could re-open and operate smarter and safer during the pandemic, minimising risk whilst allowing operations to run ‘as normal’.

Dan Nepali at work in the Caribbean Blinds factory
Dan Nepali at work in the Caribbean Blinds factory in Sudbury

We review these on a weekly basis and update them accordingly in line with Public Health England guidelines and our own safety and risk assessments. Furthermore, they are clearly communicated not just to our team in their weekly work packs, noticeboards, company intranet etc but also to our clients on both our website and in all communications to provide complete assurance.

We resumed manufacture and installation operations on 20th April after very careful and fully informed consideration and with new procedures being fully implemented. Since then the team has been working tirelessly to execute all existing orders on our system as quickly as possible, whilst maintaining our high standards and ensuring new orders run to our usual short lead times.

The showroom remains closed to end customers but there are plans to re-open on 1st June.

For us, the lockdown has worked in our favour from a business perspective. Having to stay in has meant that customers began to realise how important their home is and started to look for ways to enhance their properties. For those fortunate to have a garden or outdoor space, this has become the focus as it takes them outside the confinement of their four walls. Properties are a safe place for consumers to spend and invest their money, as although property prices can dip, they always go up.

Samuel Walker in the Caribbean Blinds Sudbury facility
Samuel Walker in the Caribbean Blinds Sudbury facility

With the idea that this staycation is the new vacation, we were of the opinion people would want to create their very own holiday at home, and so significantly increased our advertising across all platforms. With consumers now having time to research potential products, this represented a great opportunity for us to not only generate interest and inspire clients with how they could transform their gardens but to give them the information they needed to make an informed decision. The launch of our new website on 16th March could not have been timelier.

In terms of the long-term impact that COVID-19 lockdown has had on our business, we can report some very positive facts and figures:

  • Caribbean Blinds is on track to have its best May on record and signs also indicate this will be the same for June
  • Enquiry levels have tripled from this time last year and are at an all-time high with peak website visitors at 750 a day
  • Average order values have increased circa 10% due to clients adding options such as lighting and heating to their orders showing they are planning on making year-round use of their outdoor living space
  • With staycation the new vacation for the next 12-18 months, along with a heightened desire to buy products made in the UK, we are now predicting growth at levels greater than originally planned until the end of 2021.
  • We are pushing forward with our planned 10,000 sq/ft extension to our production facility which will ensure we can continue to meet growing demand whilst also employing more people from the local community and cementing our future.
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