ProCo prepares for first green shoots

ProCo has lauded the power of partnerships after preparing the ground for the new business landscape ahead with a £1m CBILs loan as it starts to see the first green shoots of recovery.

ProCo refocussed its production during lockdown
ProCo refocussed its production during lockdown

The Sheffield-headquartered business has been operating all the way through lockdown.

“I think we acted quite quickly at the start [of the coronavirus outbreak]. So, I think we got everyone in a good place early, so when it [lockdown] happened, it was maybe less of a shock than it was for a lot of businesses,” said CEO Jon Bailey.

However, he conceded that even with the preparations and the strong finances the business had going into the crisis, there was nothing the it could have done to completely shield itself and that his “heart went out to businesses that didn’t see it coming and didn’t prep”.

Like the majority of UK businesses, ProCo took advantage of the government’s furlough scheme in the early days of lockdown, when sales were down more than 80%, with around 75% of its circa 140 staff placed on the scheme.

However, just under 100 staff are now back working at the business and revenues are currently tracking at around 25% down year-on-year, according to Bailey.

“At no point did we shut down, we furloughed quickly at the start, but our shopfloor was back up to around 50% in a few weeks,” he said.

“But I also made sure that sales and account management staff remained unfurloughed, so we maintained contact with customers so that when their businesses woke up, we were the first people they think of.”

The firm’s product mix changed during lockdown and while its dynamic content and document side remained strong, its consumer offerings, like greetings cards, actually got busier.

The £1m funding will assist working capital and, according to Bailey, enable the management team to “focus on the business and innovation rather than worry about [cashflow] being strangled”.

Bailey said that one of the prime drivers for securing the loan was that the management team felt it was better to have it and not need it than not have it and then need it.

“But this could be a long battle and we want to be prepared for it.”

The firm applied for the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme through its bank NatWest, which managed its application.

Bailey praised the support the business had received from NatWest, with the process from first conversation to money transferred taking around three to four weeks, despite initial confusion between the banks and government advice.

“Yes it was a tricky, nervy time and a laborious process, but in the end we were very pleased with how it went through.”

According to Bailey the firm had introduced several new products during lockdown, including back-to-work signage and also supported several partners and produced PPE in partnership with Prime Group and Precision Printing.

It also created a 'check in desk' for returning employees.

“Moving a lot of the factory over to visor production kept everyone busy,” said Bailey.

“I think a lot of [effort] during this, as much as trying to generate revenue, is actually trying to stimulate people so that they stay ‘on it’ and focused.

“It’s very difficult to know what’s coming and I’m trying to focus my attention on the things I can do something about, because, let’s be honest, at times this has been overwhelming.

"Right now, I feel as positive as I can be. I’m really pleased with how we reacted and proud of how we’ve communicated with staff, but I’m a long way from relaxed," Bailey added.

“We [the industry] will get through this, and we’re starting to see some green shoots, so we need to focus on those and the recovery and work together to get through this.”

ProCo had sales of £15.8m in its most recent financial year, to 30 June 2019. 


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