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Back from the brink - how two businesses survived

Paul Tippins describes it as “every business owner’s worst nightmare”. In February 2008, at midnight, the fire brigade phoned to ask him whether his premises contained anything combustible.

“A pallet company two doors up had been burning broken pallets,” he recalls. “The wind changed direction and soon half of their yard was engulfed in flames. The fire spread quickly. When I arrived, at about half-past midnight, our unit was still standing, despite being in flames. Then, the whole thing went up.” More than 100 firefighters were onsite to tackle the blaze.

Matter of responsibility

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Tippins is managing director of Bristol-based Professional Hygiene (“independent janitorial and washroom services supplier”). “We were always very mindful of fire risk – but what you can’t really plan for is being so badly affected by a fire at another business. You never think it’s going to happen to you,” he adds.

Fortunately, Tippins was able to rent office space on the same trading estate. “We were operational by midday – just hours after the fire,” he recalls. “Some suppliers made emergency deliveries that day – you find out who your friends are when the chips are down.”

A major concern for Tippins was his staff. “Naturally, people worry about their job – we had 15 employees – owners and staff have a responsibility to each other. But I never considered closing down – after having invested so much time, effort and money in the business? No chance.”

Never give up

Tippins admits that trying to get his business plan back on track was hugely frustrating at times. “Progress was often slow and there was a lot of things to do on top of my normal day-to-day duties. Having a contingency plan is one thing, but the reality can be much different. Sorting out the insurance took the best part of two years, which was very frustrating.”

So, what did he learn from the experience? “That you should never give up,” Tippins replies. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger – I firmly believe that. Often you don’t feel like smiling, when you’re having to run your business from a Portakabin, with no running water, using other people’s toilet facilities. But you just push on – you have to.”

Flood damage

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Jayne Shepherd and her son Michael own the Winner Winner bar and grill restaurant in York, which was devastated by flooding on Boxing Day 2015, after the River Ouse broke its banks.

“The water was high, and there had been flood warnings, but we didn’t realise it would rise as high as it did,” she recalls. “When we did realise – it was already too late to put together a disaster recovery plan. All we could do is step back and watch. We lost everything – furniture, kitchen and bar equipment, cutlery, plates, crockery, pans, stock – everything.” Shepherd says the flood damage costs reached £65,000, with an additional four-month loss of turnover of about £80,000.

“The water subsided a week later, then we had to throw everything out,” she continues. “We were there every day for a month cleaning up before refitting could begin. Our suppliers were really supportive, letting us have equipment before we’d been paid by the insurance company – that took a while. We had a lot of help from local people, too, which was fantastic.”

Although Shepherd had managed many other businesses, Winner Winner had only been open for 18 months when the flood hit. “It was a key point; we’d worked very hard to build up the business and our sales were good. Thankfully, we were insured, but we can’t get insurance now, so we’d probably have to close if it happened again,” she confesses.

Passion and commitment

Eight months after the flood, the Shepherds opened a new takeaway, Chicken Shack, in the centre of York. “Now, if we were ever flooded again, at least we’d have some income – last time we had none, which was really tough. We had nothing to survive on and the business insurance claims can take many months to go through.”

So, what did the flood teach Shepherd about herself? “That I thrive in a crisis,” she replies. “I go into overdrive. That’s not to say I slept very well for a few months, but I get my head down and just crack on, that’s how I work. My son and I both love what we do. There was no way we were going to give up.”

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