Buying a business out of administration is always a risky strategy, especially when you know nothing about the industry, and it’s even harder during a pandemic. But this is what happened in February 2020, when Coniston Stonecraft came under new ownership.
The future for Coniston looked bleak with the receivers coming in, and the difficult decision to lay off their highly-skilled workforce, but miraculously, the doors reopened and their workforce was re-employed on the 26th of the same month...
The new owners, Brendan and Cherry Donnelly set about restoring the company’s fortunes, which is no mean feat when you live in Staffordshire, and the workshops are all the way out in the heart of the Lake District in Cumbria.
And, the list of tasks to do was huge: re-insure, reconnect, sort the website out, sort out the internet, inform the customers, check how staff felt, mend what was broken, service the machines, and get started on any outstanding orders.
Upon shutting their door on the 23rd of March 2020, lock-down gave Coniston the time to appraise the business, and to arrange the help that was needed, in order to make it succeed.
At the time, the business had all of its’ eggs in 2 baskets: fell running medals and cafe slates, which for the foreseeable future, were firmly shut, and so the Donnelly’s decided to pursue other strategies, instead. The website was updated, improved and expanded, and traffic increased steadily.
Then, they started a series of collaborations, – working with like-minded companies in a variety of sectors to design and manufacture products that their customer(s) actually wanted and needed. They emphasised the eco-credentials of the business, and also its unique Britishness and they targeted companies that desired British craftsman-made eco friendly products.
By sticking to these principles, their hard work is starting to pay off, and the business is once again thriving. So what are the secrets of Stonecrafts success?
- Understand where you are, but know where you want to go.
- Use your contacts. For example, ‘we have no contacts in the slate industry, but we know people in print media (a fantastic help when getting exposure in the local and regional press), and we have cousins in the bike retail industry, – great for reusable double wall cardboard to wrap slate.’
- Practice “slow selling” by understanding your customers’ needs. Target customers you’d like to have, and go the extra inch – to ensure that it is a win-win for everyone.
- Have a clear vision: not just of where you are going, but of how you would like the journey to progress.
- Don’t panic, don’t make undesirable promises, and don’t compromise your ethics, but try to inform your customers as much as possible on the craftsman responsible, and the quarry from where the slate originated on it.
Mending Coniston Stonecraft that was once a broken business has been a roller coaster journey, but the business is now where it has always dreamt to be, and the team looks forward with optimism, and strives to become better, whilst still enjoying the journey.