Cheltenham business Marketing and Merchandise has reported significant growth and diversification, thanks to Covid recovery support.
A Bounce Back Loan and Covid Digital Recovery Grants has helped enabled Marketing and Merchandise, which provides branded and promotional merchandise, to tap into the digital and professional expertise, skills and support of several other local businesses, providing a range of services from online, creative and marketing to coaching and office space.
Marketing and Merchandise founder Chani Martin, said: “Pre-pandemic, our core business came from the sourcing and supply of branded clothing and promotional products for our customers to use at trade shows, exhibitions and events; but as the country moved towards lockdown, these physical events disappeared virtually overnight.
“As a director of a small limited business, I didn’t qualify for any of the initial financial support offered by the government, other than the furlough scheme – which wasn’t an option, if I wanted M&M to continue operating and survive.”
Instead, Chani applied for a Bounce Back Loan and turned her focus to the changing ways of working in this ‘new normal’.
“With employee wellbeing at the fore, employers were looking for staff welfare and working from home or onboarding packs, as well as the usual ‘thank you’ gifts to show appreciation or celebrate company milestones. However, with offices empty, it wasn’t a case of being able to hand these out in person anymore, let alone being able to accept deliveries, store merchandise or have the resource to pack, wrap and ship to individuals.
“I offered a fulfilment service and my home turned into a warehouse and a dispatch hub almost overnight! This increasing demand gave me an idea for a new service that could streamline the challenges of managing a company’s merchandise needs.”
With the help of a Covid Digital Recovery Grant, Chani was able to create a new website and commission the development of an online branded product portal. Essentially an e-commerce solution, it would simplify the supply, management and distribution of a client’s merchandise, promotional products or uniform whilst delivering significant time saving and cost benefits.
The Kickstarter scheme also enabled her to employ a Digital Marketing Assistant to help promote M&M’s products, as well as supporting the portal’s first customer, the SMP Alliance.
“The SMP Alliance wanted to mark their first anniversary by sending out a branded thank you gift to colleagues” commented Martin “but with their teams spread in multiple locations across the UK and further afield too, they wanted an efficient way to manage and fulfil the process to hundreds of addresses. We created a branded portal for them, before they then sent their colleagues a link and login details. From that point, it was a hands-off solution as, in a few clicks, employees could simply order their gifts, add in their personal delivery details and we took care of the rest.”
A second recovery grant enabled M&M to further increase and promote their digital services and online presence, again engaging with local specialist businesses such as Pink Elephant Media and Squashed Robot.
“The funding we received meant I was able invest in my business and access a range of services that I simply wouldn’t have been able to afford otherwise” said Chani.
Fast forward and the return of many employees to physical offices hasn’t stemmed the steady flow of enquiries for M&M’s fulfilment and product portal services.
“My business today is almost unrecognisable from the way it looked a few years ago” commented Martin. “The combination of the Digital Recovery Grants, a Bounce Back Loan and the Kickstarter scheme, alongside the challenges of operating in a pandemic situation, have all helped boost M&M’s growth and transformation.
“I invested in business coaching, which has been invaluable in developing myself and my business. In November last year, I moved into my first office space. I now have two permanent employees, as well as using two regular freelancers and I am hoping to take on an apprentice in the summer.
“Two years ago, my immediate challenge was how could I ensure my business survived in the short term; instead, we have emerged on the other side stronger than ever. Financially, our profits have grown over 150% from their pre-pandemic rate and the diversification of the business has led to growth in corporate enquiries, including household names and high street brands” she concluded.