Mark and David Potts-Brown, co-owners of Woofs n Scruffs, at STACK Seaburn, share how the pandemic changed their lives overnight and has affected their dog care business - which has a further two centres in Washington and Seaham and a franchise in Durham. Reminding us all that we need to do our bit to help keep the North East open and #BeatCovidNE.
Q. How has your business been affected by Covid-19?
Lockdowns have hugely affected our business. When I look back to March 2020, our lives changed overnight. We had to close all our services aside from our retail stores in three sites which were allowed to sell essential items only.
We had just opened our brand-new centre at Stack in Seaburn which provides a self-service dog bathing facility as well as grooming services and the shop. We went from being open 7 days a week across 4 locations offering grooming, day care, swimming lessons and selling dog toys and equipment to operating for only 2 days a week, providing customers with essential items for their dogs.
To go from that elation of expanding our business to closing 90% of it was heart-breaking. We missed our customers terribly and all the amazing dogs that are a huge part of our lives.
Q. What challenges have you faced?
The challenges have felt relentless at times. Firstly, we had to understand and put in place the Job Retention Scheme for our employees and look into what financial support was available to us.
It was tricky as a small percentage of the business remained open and was operating but at a very low level. All of our staff were put on furlough and each site was essentially closed. I feel emotional just thinking about it.
Q. What changes have you had to make in response to the pandemic?
When we were able to fully open our business again we implemented Covid safe measures that have remained in place 24/7 as we’ve continued to weather several lockdowns.
We have followed government guidance to the letter, limiting the number of customers allowed in our centres at any one time. We installed hand sanitiser stations across all of our sites and mask wearing is mandatory inside all of our venues - regardless of what service you are using. We have also signposted each site so people are fully aware of our Covid-safe guidelines.
All of our customers must use the NHS Track and Trace system too and follow the one-way system throughout each centre. We are also now fully contactless.
Q. How have you and your staff coped during lockdown?
I’m so proud of all of our employees. We’re a very close-knit team and when the first national lockdown happened, it was such an uncertain and unsettling time. We’ve made sure we’ve kept in regular contact with furloughed team members, keeping them fully informed about changes to how the business will operate our re-opening strategy.
Throughout the last 15 months or so, some staff have experienced being fully furloughed, then partially furloughed and now fully back to work.
They have adjusted to the challenges Covid has created incredibly well – I can’t thank them enough. We’re pleased to say no employees are currently on furlough and we have successfully managed to reintegrate them into the business following months of closure.
Q. When people visit you, what will they see that is different now?
They’ll see a big visual difference - more signs, more sanitiser, staff with masks on. They’ll also see social distancing rules observed including the 2-metre rule. Our approach remains the same, just delivered slightly differently to ensure any risk of Covid transmission is minimised.
Q. What has the response been since reopening?
It’s been amazing. It’s so hard to see the closure of your business and being able to do absolutely nothing to prevent that but as we’ve opened back up (three times over now), the response from our team, our customers and the local communities that we’re such a big part of has been so wonderful. People have thanked us for the changes we’ve made that have enabled us to open, they’ve empathised with us and supported us throughout.
Q. Why are you supporting the Keep the North East Open campaign?
By keeping safe and following the rules we can get the North East business community up and running again. It’s so important to do this to support the economy and progress the great entrepreneurial talent and innovation we have right here in the North East.
This is our region, our communities, our local businesses and it’s up to us to look after them. Together we can Keep the North East Open.