As we reflect on these last 12 months, it would be all too easy to focus on the negatives given the challenges every business has faced. However in doing that, it’s easy to miss the positive things, the wonderful progress and innovation which is happening in businesses large and small across the county.
At the Business Exchange, we’re privileged to hear and receive those stories week in and week out. In fact only recently a survey said that Swindon is the eight best place in the country to start a new business!
In this article we’re doing a whistlestop tour of various views of how the business landscape is holding up as we all move forward into a new business year.
Throughout 2022, many of the business support organisations such as Business West, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) and the Swindon and Wiltshire Local Enterprise Partnership (SWLEP) have continued to be optimistic about the economic growth and development of the area.
In a positive act of optimism, SWLEP has recruited five new members on to its Board. These new members have joined to support the SWLEP in driving economic growth and delivering on its ambitious Strategic Economic Plan (2016-2026) to create wealth, jobs and new business opportunities in the area.
The area is also investing in its young generation with the opening of a new educational facility full of state-of-the-art tech at Swindon’s New College North Star campus. The facility will enable the training of future inventors and innovators from around the county.
Built on the site of the first GWR locomotive works in 1843, the facility is a 21st century showcase of skills training which is rooted in the past and focused on the future.
Confidence in Swindon and Wiltshire has also been reinforced by car dealership, Dick Lovett, relocating its BMW and Mini showrooms and 29 bay workshop to Melksham. The move will create new jobs at the new-build ultra-modern dealership.
Sadly, there have been setbacks caused by the fallout of the EU exit, the war in Ukraine, staff shortages, supply chain disruptions, rising fuel and energy prices, climate change and economic and political uncertainty in the country.
However, Swindon and Wiltshire has a long history of strong business growth in professional and financial services, technology and property and, despite the setbacks, the area has continued to reinvent itself and thrive post-pandemic.
A number of Wiltshire businesses have weathered the storm and have been recognised in 2022 as the best in their fields in a lifestyle awards event. No less than 27 Wiltshire businesses won recognition in the Muddy Stilettos Awards 2022.
The successful Wiltshire businesses are based right across the county from Aldbourne to Trowbridge and Malmesbury to Salisbury, and feature arts venues, hospitality outlets, a beauty salon, book shop, bridal products, farm shop, florist, jeweller, photographer and children’s wares.
The winners went through to the very first National Muddy Stilettos Awards and four local firms took home a trophy including Stretches & Strokes from Swindon, Hartley Farm in Bradford on Avon, The Langley Tap pub in Chippenham and The Old Bell Hotel in Malmesbury.
And that’s just one example of Swindon and Wiltshire firms grasping success. There was also the Techies Awards which was held in October, which celebrates the best in Swindon and Wiltshire tech (find out more here) and the recent South West Business and Community Awards (find out the winners here).
The Tech Sector keeps Swindon and Wiltshire thriving
The UK’s first business-led Cyber Centre opened in Chippenham in May 2022 with help from Government funding of £3.7 million from the Getting Building Fund. The project could create 250 new jobs and 1,700 training opportunities in the UK cyber sector.
The centre is now home to the Swindon and Wiltshire Cyber Cluster (SWCC) for exclusive networking and the sharing of ideas and best practices so cyber security specialist businesses in the South West can find new ways to thrive and develop.
Swindon was one of the UK’s pioneers of internet technology (IT) and can still boast being a tech mecca and home to global brands such as Intel, Nationwide, Catalent and Innovate UK – and a whole wealth of smaller companies which offer IT, AI solutions as technology leads the way in most business sectors.
Kyle Holmes is founder and director of Calne-based Black Nova Designs. Here he shares a few things that have happened in 2022 which will affect all businesses from a tech perspective.
“A key Google Helpful Content Update was rolled out in August/September 2022, and I believe that its influence will be felt in early 2023 by businesses that ignore it. Google wants to make sure that marketers are creating content aimed at real people, rather than purely trying to influence the bots that determine search engine rankings.
“With the Helpful Content Update, Google can now assess content by how in-depth it is, whether the reader will feel as though they’ve learnt something and if there’s a primary focus for the whole site. The update will also prioritise content which reads well and is structured well, so it’s important to make sure your content gives the reader real value.”
Kyle explained that his positive tip for business in 2023 is to focus on customer experience.
He said, “Bridge the gap between marketing, sales and operations so that your customers feel valued from start to finish. There’s so much amazing technology out there to help you – integrated marketing and CRM tools, social media and more.”
Peaks and troughs in the property market
The property market is one area where customer relations and the whole customer experience is important. With house buying or moving house ranked in the top three most stressful things to do in life, it is important to find a helpful and knowledgeable estate agent in these times of peaks and troughs in the price of property, interest rates on mortgages and changes in Government legislation.
White Horse Surveyors based in Chippenham, have a team of locally based surveyors that provide a range of services for buyers, sellers and homeowners across England and Wales.
Liz Graney, brand activation manager, said, “This past year has been a roller coaster year for the property sector with some very busy periods, many properties selling for over the guide price, rapidly increasing property prices and many more buyers than sellers. However, the market has now slowed down because of financial and political uncertainty.
“At the beginning of the year, there was a good choice of mortgage deals for nearly every type of buyer. As the market changed though, many providers withdrew some deals leaving some buyers struggling to find the best deals for their circumstances.”
The reduction of the Stamp Duty has helped a little but has been offset by the increase in mortgage interest rate. Many in the industry expect to start to see property prices fall in 2023. However, homeowners could see a decrease in their property value in the short term.
Liz says her three top tips for property transactions in 2023 are…
“As a buyer, getting a comprehensive property survey can actually save you money, allow you to renegotiate your offer or even walk away from a costly mistake. One customer said, “The survey was very good and stopped me from buying a house from hell!
“As a seller, ensuring your property is tidy, clean and that as many repairs as possible are fixed before viewings will help increase the value of offers you will get.
Unfortunately, many renters have found prices have increased significantly while availability has decreased in many areas. If possible, try to increase the area you are looking at for your future home.”
Business Health and Confidence
Business West runs a Quarterly Economic Survey (QES) and, for Q3, 400 businesses completed the survey giving Business West a unique insight into the trends and experience of business health for the region. Of the 400 respondents, 16 per cent were located in Swindon and Wiltshire, 14 per cent in Gloucestershire and 25 per cent were from the wider South West region.
Regarding cashflow and profitability, it says, “With businesses facing uncertainty and worrying times, the importance of business cashflow has never been greater. Cashflow levels have remained constant for 36 per cent of the survey respondents, but the overall cashflow net balance is -16 points, showing that activity levels across the region’s economy are slowing.
“As in previous quarters, the majority of businesses still expect sales growth in the coming year, but with stable or declining profit margins. In Q3, 41 per cent of respondents predict future turnover to improve compared to 27 per cent who expect improving profitability.”
One such company expecting sales growth in the coming year and predicting improved profitability is SMARTech energy based at their new offices on the Sheldon Business Park, Chippenham.
Their highly skilled team have made a huge contribution in helping organisations across the UK reduce their energy consumption, costs and carbon, leading to the company gaining a growing reputation as a prominent advisor for sustainability practices.
The launch of the company’s Energy Efficiency as a Service (EEaaS) model has made energy saving easier for organisations to implement. The energy management and reduction model has been adapted to address the changing energy cost environment and removes the financial barriers associated with high-cost energy reduction plans.
This approach has helped Swindon’s University Technical College to save more than 40 per cent in energy savings and more than 200 tonnes in carbon savings.
In contrast to the company’s humble beginnings as a ‘one-man-start-up’, SMARTech energy now employ 13 staff.
James Phipps, former CEO of Swindon-based Excalibur Communications and Neil Johnson, professional accountant for IFS4B have been appointed as directors and have joined managing director, Stuart Pearce to help accelerate the company’s growth and position within the energy reduction sector.
Swindon and Wiltshire recognised as a great place to grow a business
Whilst people living in Swindon and Wiltshire know that this is a great place to live, they may not know that Swindon is the eighth best place to start a new business according to a new survey from Virgin Money. Beaten only by Cambridge, Edinburgh, York, Oxford, Portsmouth, Aberdeen and Plymouth, the survey ranked businesses based on a variety of key metrics including average commuting time, innovation and internet speed and quality, High Street recovery rate since Covid, unemployment rate and happiness rate.
This survey shows that businesses are investing in thriving cities outside of the capital and location is one of the most important factors when you’re starting a business. Therefore as we head into 2023, here at the Business Exchange we will continue to focus on the positives and celebrate the successes of our businesses, large and small.
Here’s to a prosperous 2023!
Pictured above: The team at Chippenham’s SMARTech energy.