When Mike Jackson bought Bar Code Data Ltd at the end of January 2020, he did so with the confidence and knowledge that 20 years in the bar code industry brings. What he didn’t know was that the Covid-19 pandemic was going to strike just six weeks later – requiring plenty of adaptability and resilience to ride out the challenges.
Another support through the crisis and beyond has been the £900,000 facility that Mike agreed with Aldermore – something he describes as a “godsend”.
Buying Bar Code Data – based in Ashton-under-Lyne near Manchester - from the three original founders who set it up in 1990, Mike and his wife own 85% of the business, with one of the founders retaining the other 15%. Aldermore provided an Invoice Finance facility as part of the funding of the deal. This was then followed with a CBILS facility supporting the business’ cash flow through the pandemic. More recently, with Aldermore’s support, Mike purchased Bar Code Data’s smaller sister operation PMSS by the same method.
The onset of the pandemic so soon after acquiring the business was naturally a concern. But the fact that the company manufactures and prints its own bar code labels (rather than relying on a third-party supplier) enabled them to keep going – and demand for their products remained high.
“Covid-19 has been a really mixed bag for us,” Mike says. “We put some staff on furlough for a short period at the beginning, but we were able to keep our label presses going and in fact demand from some customers, especially in the food & beverage and leisurewear sectors, actually went through the roof. We also concentrated on improving our online and social media presence as another channel for sales of bar code labels and all the related hardware and equipment we supply.”
The company also innovated to adapt to the new circumstances, creating a paid-for app that allows customers to self-print their labels – reflecting the trend towards digitisation that is increasingly prevalent in the industry.
The resilience and innovation the company has shown meant they remained profitable and turnover in 2020 was up by 26%. The business has also grown its headcount since Mike bought it, expanding from 20 staff across the group to 26 now. This includes taking on three apprentices, with the support of the local Tameside Borough Council.
Mike is in no doubt that his Invoice Finance facility with Aldermore has played an important part in enabling the business to achieve this, using the facilities when the company needs them.
“Having the facility gives us the headroom we need,” he says. “It has helped us grow, taking on additional staff and buying equipment. It also means we’re never late paying our suppliers. That’s so important because every business needs solid partners it can rely on. If we’re able to pay them on time every time, they’re more likely to pull the stops out for us if we need it. Additionally, I’ve been involved in businesses that have been hamstrung because of cashflow issues, having the facility in place means we can ride out any cash tensions without the stress this brings.”
Another aspect Mike values is the ongoing working relationship he has with Aldermore. “The team has always had a really good personal touch. They’ve been able to help and direct us, for example with the structuring of both acquisition deals, this can be complex and time consuming so it’s important to get it right. What differentiates Aldermore for me, is the flexibility of the approach. We had an invoice finance facility with a high street bank at the sister business PMSS but we’ve actually brought it all over to Aldermore now. Aldermore have genuinely been a great partner for us.”
Mike’s looking to the future now, branching into new markets such as the healthcare sector where the company started to pick up business during the pandemic. He’s keen to expand as a national business and be an active part of the local economy too – proud that almost the whole team is from the Tameside area originally.
“I think we’ve got a great team and a strong team spirit, and for me that’s essential for any small business. My advice to other SME owners would be, have a plan; understand what you want to achieve; and be brave, because there’s plenty of opportunity. Don’t be afraid of finance either. The right package can really help your business when used in the right way. It’s all part of the big jigsaw puzzle!”
Chris Meldrum, national business development director of Aldermore said: “We’re delighted to be working with Mike and his team at Bar Code Data. The business has used Invoice Finance to good effect, as it’s helped them to buy the business and get through the pandemic with the knowledge that cash flow isn’t going to be a problem. Our Invoice Finance and CBILS facilities continue to help Mike and his team to manage the business’ growth. We look forward to continuing to support the business over the years to come.”