The subject of Brexit fills many with dread as we continue to talk about it ad nauseam. That said, one way or another, a decision will be made which will greatly influence how UK businesses operate moving forward. The impact will be huge.
How Brexit has affected my firm
From the moment the Brexit decision was announced, we knew that it was going to be a huge change for us. Roughly 50pc of the aluminium we buy is from Spain and Germany, while a large number of our workforce comes from Poland, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic. We are still continually working to assess the risks Brexit might throw at us and how we might mitigate them, in both the short and long term.
Initially, we introduced several safeguards to ensure our operations continued at the usual high standard. We invested heavily in relationships with our European suppliers, who agreed to extend our credit terms across the entire turbulent Brexit period. On top of this, more than £3.5 million of aluminium profile was stockpiled at our factory in High Wycombe, so that we would not be impacted if there is ever any border controversy. Additional support to all of our employees from the EU has been provided. As a family business, we pride ourselves on having this at the heart of everything we do. All staff are part of the Origin family.
It is hard to judge what other businesses are thinking, but I recommend being proactive now, rather than trying to play catch-up as things unfold in the future.
#1 Find new suppliers outside the EU
For UK businesses with suppliers based in the EU, look outside of Europe and work on forging new relationships. These never have to come to fruition, but if the existing relationships become untenable, you might otherwise end up being left stranded or having to pay extortionate prices.
#2 Keep an eye on currency fluctuations
Following a similar theme, any business that operates in the EU should stay up to date with the current exchange rates. In the midst of the Brexit uncertainty we are surrounded by at the moment, these are fluctuating dramatically. With all outcomes still possible, there is plenty of opportunity for the value of the pound to drop. To prepare for this, we hedged Euros at a set rate to give us some protection. This means that we are able to continue our operations as we are now, no matter the outcome. In an industry with such tight margins, this is imperative.
#3 Help EU staff with right-to-remain paperwork
Any good leader will be concerned about how the outcome of Brexit is going to affect their employees. Businesses owners should help these staff members as much as possible. This includes assisting them with all the paperwork and the administration for the right to remain in the UK. Certainly for us, it’s worth us investing in them because they want to stay, and we don’t want them to leave. The last thing UK businesses need is a skills shortage because all the effective workers have been forced to go home.
#4 Learn to stop worrying
My final piece of advice is to stop worrying. I know that is much easier said than done, but there really is no value in fretting about Brexit uncertainty. It is wasted emotional energy. Remember, everyone is going through the same thing, and it is how you adapt to the situation that will outline how successful you are in the future. View every change in the market as an opportunity to improve and gain market share. Roll with the punches. There will be plenty of opportunities coming your way – you just need to be able to react to them appropriately and effectively.
Brexit uncertainty checklist
- Firm up relationships with EU suppliers while also looking at possible sources outside of Europe
- If you have the capital available, consider hedging. At least this gives you a fighting chance if the exchange rate drops out
- Help staff who want to stay in UK with paperwork
- Remember, it is not all doom and gloom. Try to see every twist and turn as an opportunity
Victoria Brocklesby is co-founder and COO at Origin, the UK’s leading manufacturer of doors and windows