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Kent businesses which have come out stronger because of pandemic

Despite businesses taking a huge hit, some across Kent were able to come back stronger than ever because of the pandemic.

KentOnline spoke to a driving dog grooming salon, HR consultancy, family owned crafts store and a commercial kitchen ventilation firm about how they used the time in lockdown to keep their businesses going.

Dashing Hounds, owner Kayleigh Darling
Dashing Hounds, owner Kayleigh Darling

Dashing Hounds

When lockdown forced Kayleigh Darling to shut the Medway dog grooming salon, she had to look for other options.

She ended up visiting Wet Pets to convert her van into a mobile dog groomers so Dashing Hounds could still reach their customers safely.

Kayleigh added: "With people shielding and not being able to leave the house, it means they can still get their dog groomed without worrying about their well being.

"It's done wonders for my business, I'm really enjoying it. It makes the every day different, I'll go different places all the time. It's just a lot more convenient for everyone involved."

Inside the Dashing Hounds van
Inside the Dashing Hounds van

Now the restrictions have eased, Kayleigh has found the van has helped her reach a wider customer base of people who have trouble visiting the salon - whether that's because they're home workers, elderly or disabled.

She added: "I have seen a large increase in bookings. I've got a lot of elderly customers that were struggling to bring their dogs to me and then worrying about the state that their dog was in because they couldn't get to me.

"So it's a lot of pressure off customers now. They just need to know what time I'll be there ready with their dog at the door.

"I have a few customers that have to get pet taxis to bring their dog to me, which is another expense on top of having their dogs groomed. That's another thing they now don't have to worry about."

Patrick Fysh, co-owner of Store 104
Patrick Fysh, co-owner of Store 104

Store 104

A number of shops along Kent's High Streets have been making the most of the time spent locked away.

As well as opening up a new floor, the Rochester family run crafts shop, Store 104, has partnered with the café, Victoria's, which has opened in the back.

Patrick Fysh, the co-owner of Store 104, said: "We've done really well with click-and-collect web orders over lockdown.

But actually with the nature of what we sell - books and yarn and the goods - it really helps by people actually being able to look at them.

Store 104's new cafe, Victoria's, in the back of the shop
Store 104's new cafe, Victoria's, in the back of the shop
Store 104's new cafe, Victoria's, in the back of the shop
Store 104's new cafe, Victoria's, in the back of the shop

"It's almost like we opened afresh. As independent retailers we don't really have an option to close so we kind of went the opposite way and became as big as possible."

Though customers can't yet sit in the beautiful indoor café, the courtyard outside is open to sit for a quiet coffee.

Patrick added: "We've always had a steady trickle of people saying it'd be really good to have a café in this space.

"Every single day we've been back open everyone's absolutely loved it.

"When we get to the next lockdown stage - which is May 17 - it will be really nice because people can sit down with a book or some knitting and have a coffee - it just flows really nicely.

"Going forward, we're hoping we'll be able to do evening events with the café where they provide the refreshments. But obviously that's for the future."

Courtyard of Store 104 cafe Victoria's on Rochester High Street
Courtyard of Store 104 cafe Victoria's on Rochester High Street

BPHR Consultancy Limited

After being made redundant from her HR role before the pandemic, Babette Powell found herself helping family and friends navigate the new, tricky furlough scheme.

Realising she could be charging for her expertise, she took the plunge and set up her own HR consultancy, BPHR Consultancy Limited, in July.

The 45-year-old said: "It was very scary, seeing as we were still going through a pandemic. I thought, when is there a right time to start any business? Why not take the plunge and see where it heads to?

"Smaller businesses which usually would not necessarily need HR were needing HR due get through the mine-field of furlough and how to treat their staff through this tough time.

Babette Powell, founder of BPHR Consultancy Limited, Gravesend
Babette Powell, founder of BPHR Consultancy Limited, Gravesend

"The pandemic for me has worked out really well, as I get to help a variety of clients in different industries to know that their processes and procedures are up to date, know how to treat staff fairly to stop them receiving unfair, constructive dismissals or being taken to the employment tribunals."

However, Babette feels a little guilty for thriving off of the troubles of lockdown. She added: "I felt bad charging businesses for this service, especially with some having their livelihoods gone. But someone's got to do it and I'd rather it be me doing it so a fair process is in place.

"It gives me great pleasure to know that I helped the businesses out because they've got so much more to think about. I can take that stress away from them so they've got one less headache to deal with."

BPHR is still going strong after 10 months and with much more work to do as lockdown eases and furlough conditions change in July, the future is looking bright for Babette.

Nationwide Ventiliation based in Chatham, designs, manufactures and installs commercial kitchen ventilation systems
Nationwide Ventiliation based in Chatham, designs, manufactures and installs commercial kitchen ventilation systems

Nationwide Ventilation

With shops closing down during lockdown along Kent's high street's and landlords desperate to fill them, many property owners are offering amazing deals to sustainable chain stores.

As a result, chains such as Taco Bell and KFC looking to renovate their new locations works out as brilliant business for companies like Nationwide Ventiliation, which designs, manufactures and installs commercial kitchen ventilation systems.

Normally, the winter would be a slow quarter as restaurants tend not to close over Christmas and New Years.

But this year the ventilation company's turnover is 70% above normal as chains take up their services and existing restaurants call in for check ups ready for reopening post lockdown.

Rob Terry, co-owner of Nationwide Ventilation based in Chatham, said: "It may be that this boost is a flash in the pan but we then need to be looking a bit further down the line to actually broaden the business horizons so that we surf this wave - we've got to make sure we're ready to pick up on the next wave coming afterwards.

Robert Terry, co-director of Nationwide Ventiliation based in Chatham
Robert Terry, co-director of Nationwide Ventiliation based in Chatham

"It does make you feel a bit awkward because for us everything is really good news - and we're waiting for a bubble to burst.

"Obviously, I do feel for the other business owners that are out there struggling because for somebody like KFC to move into a property, it means somebody's got to be moving out, so maybe smaller, independent restaurants closing down.

"It is really a bit of a double edged sword because it does make me feel sorry for the people that are actually struggling throughout the pandemic whilst we're seeing a boom."

However, with such a huge boost to the company, Rob is hoping they can give a little back to the community.

He added: "We're obviously massively up on our turnover capacity. Whilst we can do that for a short period of time, it's not a long term strategy to be able to run at 110%.

"It means we'll be able to look at going out to the employment market and hopefully taking on some new people who may have lost their work from other businesses, we'll be able to call some people like that on board to try and give it back a little bit."

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