Extreme weather is blowing business off course, say small firms

Feb 03, 2014

 

The study includes graphic examples such as an office and warehouse that fell victim to serious flooding.
 
Weather is currently one of the three main threats to business, the  OUBS’ Quarterly Survey of Small Business in Britain reveals.
 
The report examines how SMEs deal with various ‘external shocks’, including extreme weather events, and what factors contribute to business survival and resilience following a serious external event.
 
The survey of 1,353 business owners was conducted during October and November 2013, before the more recent storms and flooding that hit the country over Christmas.
 
It found that 27% of respondents believe that extreme weather conditions have ‘posed a real threat’ over the last five years, including many graphic examples, such as an office and warehouse being left under 100mm of water when the local area was hit by major flooding. 
 
Nearly three quarters of the businesses identified at least one external threat in this period. The most commonly identified threats over this period were the credit crunch and unstable market conditions, which were each identified by 44% of businesses.

Report editor Dr Richard Blundel said: “Our survey highlights the impact of extreme weather events on many of our small and medium-sized businesses. The scale of the response is striking; whilst many businesses felt that they have improved their crisis response as a result of these events, it is evident that many others have suffered in the long term.”

Hilary Shortland, managing director of Kent-based camper van conversion business Concept Multi, said: “What affected sales most last year from our point of view was the weather… normally the beginning of the year is when our customers tend to look and purchase but because the weather was so awful for the first three months of the year, it delayed everything.”

 
Dr Blundel said: “More than five years on from the start of the global economic crisis, and as many businesses begin to report signs of an upturn, it is timely to examine how resilient SMEs have been in the face of external threats.
 
“Our survey identifies the ways that firms have prepared in advance and how they have adapted their operations in the face of a crisis.
 
On a positive note, it appears that the owners and managers of surviving firms are learning from their experiences of dealing with severe disruptions – and this learning may help to increase their capacity to respond to similar events in the future.”
 
 
Other key findings from the report were:
  • Some 40% of respondents thought that their business was stronger as a result of their exposure to these external events but for more than a quarter of respondents the business had been weakened as a consequence.
  • The most commonly identified changes that businesses were making in order to become more resilient were to diversify into new market(s) and/or business activities (37%), closely followed by making changes to the supply chain and/or forming new business partnerships (30%), and reducing the number of permanent staff employed (28%).
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