Our client Livingreen Design is an Edinburgh-based business that has carved a niche for itself in the production of an impressively wide array of green lifestyle products such as planters (fibreglass plant pots), artificial trees and plants, and other bespoke items to adorn and beautify internal and external spaces.
Starting out by supplying primarily to the landscape, gardening and floral markets, the company has expanded over the years with products ideal for environments such as office spaces and atriums, hotel lobbies and terrace gardens.
The company can trace its roots back some 30 years but, in its present form, is the result of a management buy-out (MBO) in 2011 when husband and wife team Karen and Tony Sawyer became its directors along with one other partner, Dorian Hope. The business has grown since then, from eight employees to its current 35-strong workforce, with its own in-house manufacturing facility in Midlothian.
The shock of Covid-19
All was going well for the business up until early March 2020, when Covid-19 began to emerge. The sudden requirement to go into complete lockdown in Scotland and across the UK from mid-March presented a huge challenge for the business – as it did for almost every company of every size across the UK.
Reflecting on that time, Karen Sawyer recalls the starkness of the situation: “It was a shock at first really. In Scotland, the First Minister announced that all non-essential businesses had to close down and obviously that included us. At first, we thought it might only last for a few weeks. But obviously it quickly became apparent that it would go on for much longer than that.”
The imposition of lockdown brought a flurry of immediate tasks – finishing off what orders they could, speaking to customers whose orders would not be able to be fulfilled and assessing the implications for their business. After consulting with their team, Karen and Tony took the difficult decision that all staff would have to be furloughed – the business effectively being put into hibernation.
Hitting back with a new solution
“We were determined to keep the business active and find a way to respond positively to the crisis situation,” Karen says. “We brainstormed about the ‘new normal’ and what our customers would need as a result. That’s how Clean Team was formed.”
They considered the likelihood that a whole range of businesses and venues would have a huge demand for hand sanitiser going forward – but what they found was a shortage of designed solutions for storing or displaying them: just bottles on a table or in plastic containers. There was a latent demand for sanitiser dispensing solutions that were both practical and aesthetically pleasing.
The next step was to think about integrating a sanitiser dispenser into their planters: the perfect solution that could easily be placed at the entrance to offices, hotels, shops and other venues. They came up with three initial products – ‘clean stations’ that could also hold a plant, matching ‘clean bins’ to stand alongside, and even a children’s version with a smiley face built in – called a ‘pombot’.
All of this happened at an accelerated pace. “We went from idea to market within a month, when normally it could have taken up to a year,” Karen reflects. Orders have already started to come in and production is in full swing.
Managing the cash flow challenge
Throughout this, finance and cash flow has of course been a challenge. Income fell to virtually zero while there were still expenses to meet. The business has an Invoice Finance facility with Aldermore, which has helped with cash flow as money from invoices issued prior to the crisis can be drawn upon before the customer actually pays.
“We’ve always had a great relationship with Aldermore and the invoice finance facility is invaluable,” Karen says. “It gives you that extra security, knowing you can access funds even if a customer takes a long time to pay. Our Relationship Manager Gavin Mories has always been incredibly helpful and responsive. I know he’s there on the end of the phone if I need to discuss anything.”
With lockdown now easing and businesses and shops opening up again, the hope is that the Clean Team concept will prove a hit.
“We are going to keep pushing and moving the business forward,” Karen comments. “The critical thing is to stay focused on what our customers need and respond to that. The economy is slowly beginning to open up again, which brings hope for the future.”
Gavin Mories at Aldermore said: “We wish Livingreen and Clean Team every success. It’s been inspiring to see how they have responded to the situation in front of them. It’s a great example of the innovative spirit that characterises so many SMEs up and down the country.”