On the morning of boxing day 2015 I woke up to the news of the devastating flooding that had hit many areas of Yorkshire. I watched on the news the reports of people being evacuated and whole communities being devastated.
I have my own little business based in Idle West Yorkshire making furniture from reclaimed timber and although I do sell online my main outlet at the time was a shop based in Hebden Bridge, one of the areas severely hit by the flooding.
I immediately knew then that the anticipated January / February orders weren't going to materialise and that I was potentially out of business for the foreseeable future.
I became involved with the shop when I went to help them finish off the refurbish of their shop after the previous flooding which put them out of action for nearly two years
Having seen them rebuild their business from the sodden state it was in back into a productive local business providing jobs for local people, a means for local artists artisans to sell their wares and being an integral member of the Hebden Bridge business community the idea that they and hundreds of other independent businesses were going through the horrific trauma and upheaval again was unthinkable.
What a few days of media coverage doesn't tend to portray is that the flooding is just the start of a whole process of communities fighting for their own survival over the coming years and beyond.
It doesn't really sum up the affect this kind of disaster has on people their families and the communities that they call home.
In a previous life I developed websites for a living and was using the anticipated offline sales to allow me to upgrade my website ready for action again in May / June once the orders from the shop began to die down. For me to be able to continue trading would be a case of upgrading the website and start rolling out the marketing (although with all of my stock in the Hebden shop it would also mean affording the wood and spending some time making pieces to sell) .
I had to come up with a plan to ensure that I was better prepared for this in the future
So securing myself a position as chief of delivery at the local Italian takeaway and started putting some thought to it.
On the basis that the physical shop was now not an option for either myself or the owners for the foreseeable future ( if at all again) the focus 'in my mind' had to be an online solution that would allow affected businesses to continue trading while repairs were carried out and their customers and visitors returned.
A doddle then, simply salvage what stock you can and sell it online, hardly brain surgery,
many retailers have a website that they are able to sell from and many of them had warning of the floods and were able to move stock upstairs or into safety. Surely the answer would be to switch operations online ??
Unfortunately the reality wasn’t quite that simple.
First of all, for many small businesses a website is an expensive necessity that doesn't actually pay it's own way. Managing and maintaining a website can be a full time job and many older websites are not up to date with current coding practice and technological advancements.
For example :
To enable some old websites to display on a mobile phone would in most cases mean a virtual rebuild of the whole site at a potential cost of hundreds if not thousands and even then marketing a website to be able to compete against the likes of Ebay, Amazon, Etsy in the vast ocean of retail that is the internet can be a very slow, expensive time consuming process, with most of the smaller local businesses surviving on local trade and tourism their online presence became less of a priority.
One of the major issues for the shop that I was in was that their stock system didn’t communicate properly with their website system and was therefore not a viable option.
Nevertheless, if they were able to compete effectively online when required it may be the difference between them surviving and thriving or disappearing from our local communities forever with the knock on effects that has on localities and the local economy.
A possible solution was forming: