More than 50% of Irish businesses experiencing lower financial turnover

The Central Statistics Office (CSO) has released a report on how the COVID-19 crisis has affected business in Ireland. Roise Collins spoke with local businesses about how they’re coping and adapting with the restrictions.

The Central Statistics Office (CSO) has released a report on how the COVID-19 crisis has affected business in Ireland. They collected this information by surveying businesses, from the 27th of July to the 23rd of August, 2020. The CSO survey included questions such as: the current trading status of the business, the performance of the business and its expectations going forward, changes to the workforce in response to COVID-19, the impacts on the organisation of the business, the ability of the business to access finance and availing of Government support.

Of the businesses surveyed by the CSO, one third (33%) were trading at partial capacity.

  • 34.4% were trading at less than 50% of normal capacity.
  • Almost two in five (38.3%) businesses were trading at between 50% to 75% of normal capacity.
  • A quarter (24.9%) of partially trading businesses reported a trading capacity of 75% or more compared to normal levels.

The results from the surveys showed that more than half of respondents had lower than normal turnover, for the four-week period. 

The City spoke with Anna Good, the owner of Wholegreen Health Food, a local business in Letterkenny, Co.Donegal.

When asked about how the pandemic has impacted her business, Good said: “It was a dramatic shock to the day to day working conditions and the overall feel in the business. The obvious was that there was less footfall, less customers and a lot more stress!”

Wholegreen, one of the town’s most popular cafes, is usually buzzing as it’s situated just off the main street. “The café had a lot less footfall as it was obvious people didn’t want to be in town; our major losses were that the big employers had all their staff working from home so our lunchtime trade vanished,” she said.

“It was hard to realise that we were down about 50% across the board.” 

She explained how her revenue was down dramatically, and that as the owner, “it was the weighing up of situations and the unknown that was the hardest, trying to make everyone feel safe in work, keeping customers happy while there was very real tension and being financially savvy was very difficult”.

“Wholegreen’s vibe is to be relaxed and upbeat, having the near opposite feel in the building was very emotionally difficult and it just didn’t feel like the business we created or wanted if this was what the future looked like.”

One of the main difficulties for many local businesses is trying to operate while ensuring the safety and wellbeing of their customers. 

  • Four in five (81.6%) of the businesses have increased hygiene measures in the workplace, and more than six in ten (63.4%) have ensured to provide mandatory PPE, such as gloves and face masks to their staff.
  • Protective screening, such as perspex screens were provided by 49.5% of businesses for staff in the workplace while 42.4% have occupancy limits in place.
  • Four in five (79.9%) enterprises have rearranged their business or workspace to facilitate social distancing.

Good explained the changes they implemented in Wholegreen in accordance with Government guidelines.  “We reduced or closed seating as need be for the level we were at, we had to add in screens, a one way system, cashless payments, all the staff wearing masks etc.” 

Wholegreen decided to close their business before required to do so back in March, earlier than other businesses: “No one was sure how serious the situation was going to get and I had a responsibility to my staff  and customers to do what felt right at the time.

“When we reopened in June everything was scaled back, less staff, less menu options, less seating, all in all we had to run a smaller tighter ship with an emphasis on survival.”

In a survey by Bord Bia, they reported that the Irish foodservice market will drop by nearly half this year. The 2020 Irish Foodservice Market Insights Report, says the industry will be worth €4.5bn this year. This shows a drop of €4bn compared to the performance of the industry last year.

A massive concern for many businesses is accessing finance and availing of government support. There are currently supports in place such as the wage subsidy scheme or the Pandemic Unemployment Payment but accessing these has proved tedious for some. 

Barry Wiggins, the owner of Aunty Ann’s Cafe, in Annagry, Co.Donegal, which is currently temporarily closed, explained how he struggled in accessing the initial small business grant and was left waiting, while bills kept coming. Wiggins has now applied for the Covid Restrictions Support Scheme which can be claimed until the business opens again: “It’s not a great amount, but it’s well needed.”

“All in all, very little considering they won’t let me trade!” he said in frustration.

“The hardest part of the whole time was waiting, waiting for supports to kick in, waiting for the banks to organise payment breaks, waiting on a daily basis to figure out if we were still going to be able to reopen whenever that may be, waiting while your regular outgoings are still been taken out of your account and your doors are closed.” said Good.

Good said the stress financially and the worrying about her staff was the hardest part. “But we got through,” she said. “We had amazing support, I had customers randomly message me to say they were missing their juices or favourite dessert and that really gave me faith that it was all going to be fine, sounds simplistic but it did help me.

 “At times I thought I could lose a business that I had spent 5 years building up, the thought of losing it- not by my own actions, but by something outside of my control.” 

Wholegreen is also temporarily closed, and will remain closed until December. Good said there isn’t enough certainty in Level 5 to justify being open, and said one of the benefits of being closed is that she now has more free time, which is usually one of the hardest things to find when running a business. 

Good is using this time to focus on improving her business and her new venture, she is currently turning half of the café into a zero waste shop. “Which I am so excited about, so I am taking the positive out of the situation,” she said.

“Covid has given us the time to plan, the financial support and taken the fear out of the process. 

“I feel if we have managed to survive this year we can do this!” she said.

During the summer the business saw how they could survive with reduced seating which sparked the idea of changing the 40 seat area into a shop- and to focus on a smaller seated section inside and an outside all year round area.

“We thought so much is changing for the businesses now with COVID that now is the perfect time to shift, and fingers crossed the support will be there, as we feel Letterkenny is ready for it.”

When asked how the zero waste shop would work, Good explained: “Simply we buy in bulk to reduce packaging and our customers bring their own bottles and containers to the shop to be refilled.”They will have over 130 dry goods, “from beans, pulses, herbs, flours, teas, coffees, sweets, chocolate, oils and vinegars…we will also have eco friendly products like cups, reusable goods, soaps, sanitary wear, lots of different practical products and gift ideas.”

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