Caws Carpentry and Building, based in Southampton, were established in 2002 by Ryan Caws, who has over 30 years of experience in the building and carpentry trades. They are experts in bathroom installations, extensions, loft conversions, refurbishment, and much more, meaning they are constantly busy, with new customers being placed on a waiting list due to their reputation for the quality of their work.
With many employed, self-employed, and subcontracted tradesmen relying on Ryan to earn a living, the start of the COVID-19 pandemic brought worries of how to protect his staff from coronavirus, but also how to pay them a wage they could survive on.
“The start of the pandemic was extremely hard – we had to abide by the new rules of who were and weren’t allowed to work, try to keep my staff in work so they could earn a living, keep them socially distanced, and keep the guys out of customers houses unless physically impossible. It was a nightmare, and we’re still seeing the effects of it today”.
Sourcing materials also became a headache, with shortages nationwide and social distancing causing problems for collections. However, many innovative merchants completely changed the way they conducted business, which Ryan says was a gamechanger:
“I deal with a huge number of merchants in the South (a combination of nationals and small local organisations) and this past year has really made my priorities change. I cannot have my guys driving around, back and forth between merchants looking for bags of cement anymore. They must limit their human interaction and save costs wherever possible.
I need to be able to go online, see that what I need is in stock, and place an order for collection there and then. Being able to get texts from merchants when my order is ready and knowing that my staff won’t have to handle unnecessary paperwork and can instead receive delivery notes by email – these things are so important to us now.
I tend to lean towards suppliers that I can access online nowadays – I just don’t have time to be calling around asking for copy invoices or making payments. I’m often working late into the evening, when the merchants have closed, and so being able to access my account online to look up prices, place orders, arrange collections etc is essential so that we can get a running start the next day.”
The increased need for remote order entry (e-commerce) and mobile solutions has obviously been exponential over the last year. Customer special prices, stock availability, credit limits and historic sales had to be live and drawn real-time from a back-office system, removing any reliance on paper and reducing manpower (essential during the furlough and redundancy period) while also providing an efficient and slick service that business owners like Ryan desperately needed in hard times.
If, hopefully soon, we return to a world without social distancing measures, then the innovators within the merchant industry will already be ahead of the game with slicker, more efficient operations which benefit themselves and their customers.
”I still very much value a good deal and a friendly, fast service – but if I can get that from a supplier that helps me protect my team and my business then all the better” .