As the economy gathers pace following the effects of the pandemic and lockdown it is more important than ever that businesses are ready to grasp all the opportunities to capitalise on the upturn.

This means that firms will need to be geared up in all areas including finance, innovation, skills, new markets, product development, customer satisfaction and marketing strategy and research to name but a few.

I am delighted that we now have a specialist Business Growth Advisor, Richard Brace, based at the Chamber as part of the Stoke-on-Trent & Staffordshire Growth Hub team.

Richard will be helping businesses to define their growth strategy by offering advice and free business growth diagnostic support. Richard has over 30 years’ experience of business consultancy in the UK and overseas covering most business sectors and has 20 years’ experience as director of a market research company.

If you are looking to grow your business, or re-establish your position after the Covid-19 lockdown, Richard can meet with you and offer advice and an objective diagnostic of your business to help your company on the road to growth and success. To speak to Richard call 01782 202222 or email: richard.brace@staffordshirechambers.co.uk

As a governor of Staffordshire University, I want to help to reassure prospective students that September 2020 is still a great time to start their higher education journey with Staffordshire University.

Due to the uncertainty surrounding 2020 results, this has been an incredibly challenging few weeks – not only for Staffordshire University but, most importantly, for their prospective students. They are in the process of making one of the most important decisions of their lives – one that will impact their future careers and long-term prospects. The added complications surrounding grade assessments and results have only served to exacerbate their feelings of confusion and uncertainty.

I know as well as our wonderful business community do, that Staffordshire is a great place to study, live and work. Additionally, there is fantastic assistance and encouragement available to any graduates setting up a business.

Staffordshire University sees potential, not just grades. For all courses still available through clearing, they will consider experience and passion – as well as results.

There are limited places for September 2020 still available and if you know of anyone still looking for a place they can do so at: www.staffs.ac.uk/clearing or by calling the 2020 clearing hotline on 0800 590 830.

If you want to talk to us about any business issues, you can call our switchboard on 01782 202222 or call the Stoke and Staffs Growth Hub Helpline on 0300 111 8002.

Award winning integrated marketing agency Plinkfizz is going from strength-to-strength which is supported by the appointment of two new members of staff.

Account Managers Charley Bright and Emma Thorley have joined the team to support the continued growth of the agency. These appointments are the icing on the cake for Plinkfizz which has also taken on 12 new clients during the pandemic.

Charley is fully equipped to handle the role of Account Manager with more than 10 years’ experience in a marketing management role. Her skills include a range of online and offline marketing activities.

She joined from JCB Worldwide Marketing where she held the marketing manager’s title. There she led on and managed three agricultural exhibitions including the world’s largest show, Agritechnica. She also oversaw the launch of the Electric Teletruk, which is a new generation of innovative products.

Charley said: “I love nothing more than having a new marketing project or event to manage. I’m passionate about delivering successful campaigns that align with company objectives, drive business growth and deliver that all important ROI. I know I’m going to find great success here with the team at Plinkfizz.”

Emma also joined from JCB Worldwide Marketing where she held the position of Marketing Communications Manager. Emma oversaw the launch of the Fastrac 8000 which is JCB’s largest ever agricultural tractor alongside many other product launches and JCB exhibitions across a diverse range of industry sectors.

She has more than a decade of integrated marketing experience where she delivered creative and profitable solutions to drive sales, and attract and maintain customers globally.  Emma’s skills are in global communication plans, delivering high-energy business proposals and coordinating creative and innovative integrated marketing campaigns from conception to fruition.

Emma explained: “I’m an enthusiastic, conscientious and passionate Account Manager. With my marketing expertise I know I can help our clients to reach their full marketing potential. I’m looking forward to working with clients to enhance and support their business needs.”

Managing Director of Plinkfizz, Fiona Hawkins commented: “We’re thrilled to be bringing on new recruits, especially now we’re coming out on the other side of the coronavirus epidemic. I know they’re all going to be great assets to the business and to our clients. They‘re fitting in already and I can’t wait to see the whole team continue to grow.

“Our main priority at Plinkfizz is always our clients and making sure we can provide the best opportunities and services for them. Offering in-house marketing and PR solutions allows us to work seamlessly as an integrated marketing agency.”

These new appointments follow a further two. Annabel Fallows and Hannah Natalello took on their new roles just before the Coronavirus pandemic, and have both shown strength and resilience as new starters through a period of uncertainty.

Annabel joined as a Journalism graduate from Staffordshire University as Content Executive. Her role involves creating written content for clients from press releases and blogs to social media and web content.

Annabel commented: “I completed a placement at Plinkfizz when I was studying, so when I saw there was a vacancy, I knew I had to apply for the role. Plinkfizz was where I wanted to be, the working environment was perfect for me and the variety in an integrated marketing agency gives plenty of fresh challenges and opportunities for new skills.”

Hannah has joined as SEO Specialist and uses her passion and expertise to tie together creative and technical elements that help websites to thrive online.

Hannah said: “My background is in search engine optimisation, copywriting, and client management. I love staying ahead of the curve in terms of search trends and techniques so being part of a business that puts innovation first is exactly where I need to be.”

To find out more about Plinkfizz and to hear what the team can do for you call: 01782 630777 or visit the website: www.plinkfizz.com

The Hednesford based fastener and fixing company Rivetwise are proud to announce their strategic partnership with global leader in precision fastening and assembly solutions Stanley Engineered Fastenings, which makes them a leading authorised distributor of Stanley Engineered Fastening Products for the UK and Ireland. 

This exciting partnership has come at a time of growth for the fastener and fixing company who offer many application solutions including rivets; rivet nuts; structural rivets & fasteners; rivet tools; Helicoil inserts; rivet and rivet nut tool spare parts, and who serve a wide range of customers including traditional light manufacturing; automotive; rail;  aerospace; electronics; domestic appliance; HVAC and building and construction. The Rivetwise Customer base will  benefit from being able to quickly access a supply of the world’s most advanced fastening and assembly solutions, high levels of service, technical knowledge and expertise offered by the dynamic Rivetwise team, a one-stop-stop for fastening and fixing needs as well as value-added services including tool hire, maintenance, repair and tool sales all of which are competitively priced. 

“We are really excited about being aligned with the global leader in precision fastening and assembly solutions and the business opportunities now available to Rivetwise. As a result of this strategic partnership we have also recently found ourselves in a position where we have been able to increase our workforce in order to support business growth and customer demand which is fantastic considering the current economic climate.”

Sean Keeley-  Managing Director of Rivetwise

The Hednesford based fastener and fixing company Rivetwise are proud to announce their strategic partnership with global leader in precision fastening and assembly solutions Stanley Engineered Fastenings, which makes them a leading authorised distributor of Stanley Engineered Fastening Products for the UK and Ireland.

This exciting partnership has come at a time of growth for the fastener and fixing company who offer many application solutions including rivets; rivet nuts; structural rivets & fasteners; rivet tools; Helicoil inserts; rivet and rivet nut tool spare parts, and who serve a wide range of customers including traditional light manufacturing; automotive; rail; aerospace; electronics; domestic appliance; HVAC and building and construction. The Rivetwise Customer base will benefit from being able to quickly access a supply of the world’s most advanced fastening and assembly solutions, high levels of service, technical knowledge and expertise offered by the dynamic Rivetwise team, a one-stop-stop for fastening and fixing needs as well as value-added services including tool hire, maintenance, repair and tool sales all of which are competitively priced.

“We are really excited about being aligned with the global leader in precision fastening and assembly solutions and the business opportunities now available to Rivetwise. As a result of this strategic partnership we have also recently found ourselves in a position where we have been able to increase our workforce in order to support business growth and customer demand which is fantastic considering the current economic climate.”

Sean Keeley- Managing Director of Rivetwise

It’s not really a great surprise that the latest figures from the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) Coronavirus Impact Tracker show that firms are still vulnerable as government support schemes approach their end and illustrate that business conditions improved only moderately since the historic contraction of the economy in Q2 2020.

Firms are still reporting high levels of reliance on government support schemes to help cashflow issues with more than one in three businesses saying they have three months or less cash in reserve.

Slightly mixed news in that the number of firms reporting a rise in revenue from UK customers rose slightly from 34 to 38 per cent, from a low of three per cent in Q2 was perfectly balanced by the 38 percent of respondents reporting a decrease in revenues.

Business to consumer (B2C) firms were more likely to report improvements in revenue compared to other sectors, largely because of pent-up consumer demand.

With government schemes set to wind down in coming weeks and the threat of the reintroduction of localised or national lockdowns, we are still unclear what, if any, support firms will receive when schemes end.

Chambers across the UK are calling for the government to reduce employers National Insurance Contributions and for targeted support for businesses placed under local lockdown. Ministers need to be proactive and not wait until we are in the grips of another lockdown until they act. To add your input to the BCC Coronavirus Impact Tracker visit: https://bit.ly/3gbugmz

Finally, a quick reminder that we are still seeking nominations for our council and our local area boards in Stafford and the Staffordshire Moorlands.

Being a member of council or a local area board is a great way to have a say in shaping business support in the area as well as being kept right up to date with the latest business developments.

It is also great for continuous professional development and introduces you to a new network of likeminded business professionals. To find out more you can contact Vicki Hardie – vicki.hardie@staffordshirechambers.co.uk

If you want to talk to us about any business issues, you can call our switchboard on 01782 202222 or call the Stoke and Staffs Growth Hub Helpline on 0300 111 8002.

Stafford based IT provider 848 Group has tripled its workforce over the past four months going from strength-to-strength, offering its transformational business IT services.

 

848 Group has proudly recruited 12 new team members across the Managed Services, Business Solutions and Sales departments and the rate of growth 848 Group has experienced this year has made them a very desirable employer. So much so that they have been approached directly by many high-profile professionals interested in a developing their careers.

 

The senior team implemented a strategy which was to essentially “grow their way out of the Covid-19 problem” which has proven to be a success. The sales team itself has tripled in size and together 848 has managed a significant amount of work up and down the country, helping many businesses to secure their IT infrastructure during lockdown.

 

Three appointments of note include, Account Director Andy Parr, Business Central Consultant Gurnek Uppal and Solutions Architect Harikumar Nagappan.

 

Andy has re-joined the 848 Group sales team after initially joining the company in March 2019.

 

Sadly, Andy’s father was diagnosed with terminal cancer and so Andy left the company after 7 months to travel the world and spend time with his dad.

 

Due to his previous time at 848 Group, Andy was welcomed back with open arms.

 

He said: “I have always had the upmost respect for Kerry and David so when the opportunity arose to come to back to 848 Group, I jumped at it.

 

“It’s such a great team, we all genuinely get on and do great work for the clients.”

 

Andy was previously a Director at Clarinet where he oversaw the sales and marketing strategy for three companies as well as being heavily involved in business development and that gave him a great foundation for his new venture at 848 Group.

 

CEO Kerry Burn, said: “We are over the moon to have Andy back. He’s a fantastic communicator, with excellent leadership and management skills. He has a proven track record for success and is extremely solutions driven.”

 

Gurnek will be key to providing a service that can provide a full CRM and ERP experience for 848 Group customers. He has extensive experience of application design, integration and implementation.

 

Business Central, as part of the Microsoft Business Solutions suite, provides a cloud application which empowers the organisation from selling to manufacturing including finance in the way that Office 365 has done for collaboration and productivity across the whole workplace. 848 Business Solutions offers proven pathways for customers to move to Business Central allowing transformation of their back office and adopt modern digital approaches.

 

Kerry added: “Gurnek brings a methodical and agile approach to application design, which has been developed and supported by his long-term experience of technology implementations with both large and small clients.”

 

Hari is highly experienced in delivering end-to-end business critical solutions to transformation and migration programs. He has six Microsoft certifications under his belt and is an excellent management professional.

 

Kerry said: “Hari will bring a lot of value to 848 Group and our customers. He is an expert at guiding customers through the journey of “current-state to desired-state, by aligning the business-critical pillars to meet complex and constantly changing business needs.”

 

Group Technical Director Dave Burn added: “848 Group continues to expand in every division and the new employees show a continued commitment to being a full-service IT provider. This trio augment our teams providing key skills across the board.

 

“Growing our team not only adds depth to 848 Group, but it has significant benefits for customers as we are now a one stop shop. This also provides significant opportunities for employees to discover new skills and focus areas.”

 

Andy, Gurnek and Hari and just three of the 11 new recruits to have already joined, with the 12th due to start in September.

 

848 Group has recruited in all departments including, three new starters in sales, four on the support desk, two project consultants, one enterprise architect, one lead Microsoft dynamics developer and one senior functional consultant.

 

If you’re interested in working in partnership with an IT provider, contact 848 Group on  0344 9848 848 or info@848.co

 

For more information visit 848.co

 

Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce is celebrating this week after winning the Investors in People Award.

During a comprehensive assessment period which concluded in March, Investors in People judged Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce to have achieved the Gold standard, an accolade awarded to only 16% of businesses.

The local business support service received the accolade after the global watchdog recognised that staff members were positive about people, business and process and that the company had strong leadership and open communication. It was also praised for having strong ambition with clear vision, mission and values.

Sara Williams, Chief Executive at Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce, said: “This award is a testament to the passion, expertise and commitment of our staff who continue to excel, even during the challenges of COVID-19.

“Our goal is to help all the people of Staffordshire be more prosperous and have more opportunities, by helping business to belong to the Chamber and do things better. To achieve this we operate as one team and strive to achieve the best for our member businesses.”

Staffordshire has thrown open its doors and is welcoming residents and visitors to explore its most famous landmarks and hidden gems.

While the thrilling rollercoasters at Alton Towers Resort draw visitors from across the UK, the county also boasts a number of historic houses, ancient castles and engaging museums as well as stunning landscapes and wild places with activities for the adventurous.

Now, Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Growth Hub and Enjoy Staffordshire have joined forces to showcase the wide variety of attractions, eating places and accommodation that make the county a desirable destination for day-trippers, weekenders and staycationers.

#EnjoyStaffsSafely brings tourism, leisure and hospitality businesses together to celebrate everything the county has to offer, in line with national campaigns designed to bolster the industries as lockdown restrictions ease.

The campaign will highlight some of the independent businesses which cater to doorstep visitors and tourists from further afield.

#EnjoyStaffsSafely also aligns with nationwide key messages from the Government including Eat Out to Help Out, Know Before You Go and #EnjoySummerSafely as well as raising awareness around the ‘We’re Good to Go’ industry standard.

Nicola Kent, Growth Hub Manager, said: “There is so much to see and do in Staffordshire and as our visitor economy opens up and we can make plans for the summer, it’s important we support our tourism, hospitality and leisure businesses and make sure we can all stay safe.

“This is why our #EnjoyStaffsSafely initiative supports the national campaigns including Eat Out to Help Out and Know Before You Go.”

Andrea Sammons from Enjoy Staffordshire said: “Staffordshire has so much to offer to both residents and visitors, with some lovely places to stay, eat out and explore alongside our fantastic attractions and activities.

“We’re delighted to be showcasing some of the exciting things to see and do throughout the county and supporting our businesses as they welcome back visitors and ensure everyone can #EnjoyStaffsSafely.”

The national campaign will highlight some of the independent businesses which cater to doorstep visitors and tourists from further afield.

As part of the campaign, businesses across the county are urged to get the latest advice and support from the Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Growth Hub, either online at www.stokestaffsgrowthhub.co.uk or through the business helpline: 0300 111 8002.

To find out what is open and how you can Enjoy Staffordshire safely this summer visit www.enjoystaffordshire.com/safely

First time buyers are being advised that support from a mortgage advisor is more vital than ever as lending options have been squeezed in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

James Adams, of Basford, Newcastle-under-Lyme based My Simple Mortgage says the market has hardened and there’s a lack of options for buyers who can only fund a 10 per cent deposit or less.

This comes despite a high appetite from people to move home following the lifting of lockdown.

“There’s a desire to buy property right now, with many first time buyers looking to get a mortgage,” said James. “Unfortunately, the banks are struggling to cope in the wake of coronavirus and a staffing crisis has led to a scarcity of mortgages for buyers who have only got savings to pay a 10 per cent deposit or less.
“As brokers, we believe we must react to support first time buyers.”

James said the major banks had cut the availability of mortgages for those with 10 per cent deposits having placed many mortgage underwriters on furlough. He explained: “Lending 90 per cent or more is seen in the banking sector as a major risk and every transaction has to be approved by a senior underwriter. The banks responded to Covid-19 by becoming ultra-cautious; staff have been furloughed and there’s a risk adverse attitude to 90 per cent mortgages and that means there’s hardly any good deals available.

“That’s a blow to the economy at a time when estate agents are reporting a surge in interest in house buying following lockdown. There’s a real will to buy, but the banks are not meeting that demand.”

But support is available by contacting mortgage brokers, such a My Simple Mortgage, based at Basford, Newcastle-under-Lyme.

Added James: “There’s hardly any opportunity right now to arrange a 90 per cent mortgage without going through a broker. The reality is that the major barrier to buying a first home is the need for a sizeable deposit and anything above 10 per cent is prohibitive for many would be first time buyers.”

“House prices are rising at the moment, so it is a good time to buy. We can support these people by using our expertise and by talking to the banks.”

James’ concerns have been mirrored by City of London financiers. One commentator told the BBC that the credit squeeze was tighter than during the global recession 12 years ago.

At present, there is only one two-year fixed-rate mortgage available for borrowers offering a 5% deposit, compared with 137 before the coronavirus crisis, according to financial information service Moneyfacts.

Lenders told the Bank of England Credit Conditions Survey that demand for new mortgages, remortgaging, loans and credit card borrowing had dropped in the three months to the end of May. Consumers had played safe and much of the UK economy was shut down.

All were expecting to see a rise in demand now until the end of August, but supply would be squeezed on all of them.

Learners are being given the opportunity to study now and pay later under a new interest free loan scheme launched by Acacia Training.

The Trentham-based training provider is now offering finance options on over 40 courses, including adult care, childcare, management and leadership, dental nursing, sports massage, personal training and beauty therapy. Learners will have to pay a minimum of 10% deposit and will have up to 36 months to repay the loan.

Acacia Training has teamed up with Deko to provide the finance and is authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). Company Director, Victoria Sylvester, explains: “We want everyone, whether they’re just starting out in their career or looking to upskill or change profession, to be able to access learning and development opportunities. But the reality is that there are many learners out there who are not eligible for the various pots of funding available from government and other schemes.

“The interest free loans will help to provide these learners with access to a huge range of training courses, which can help them to secure that first job, progress in their career or get a new job if they have been made redundant. In the current uncertain economic climate, accessibility to training is more important than ever.”

Training opportunities range from short courses for those who want to build on their existing skills to year-long Level 3 diplomas. Applicants must be at least 18 years old.

Victoria adds: “We hope that the interest free loans will provide learners of all ages with an affordable way to develop their career, whatever stage they are at.”

For more information, please visit acaciatraining.co.uk or call 01782 646346.