I would like to tell you a story of a banker, an industrialist and Brexit.
A young man from our bank came to visit my company a few days ago. Apparently we are now borrowing so much money from them that we qualify for the personal services of a Senior Relationship Manager. Or maybe the bank just wanted to check on the assets against which their money had been borrowed.
“Please excuse the mess” I apologised, as I led him through to our production area: “We are in the middle of moving our factory. Let’s start at our stores, where I can then walk you through what we do and point out the machines you financed.” He followed cautiously as we made our way round crates stenciled for exporting, stillages of parts and bustling workers.
Stopping in a temporarily clear area, I gestured around me. “Raw material comes in here, which we don’t issue until the job can be completed without stopping. Average work in progress is less than one week, and as we build to order we have no finished goods stock.”
“All this racking here has material we currently buy from the EU but, because of Brexit, we have just borrowed money from you to buy this Italian machine over there, so that we can make this material ourselves. In future, we will be able to make this week what we need next week, instead of waiting four to six weeks for deliveries from Europe, and it will also make us more Brexit-resilient.”
At the “Brexit” word he raised an eyebrow, “How much will Brexit impact your business ?”
Pointing at the crate going to China, I explained: “Half of our exports go outside the EU, and we are trying to build those up with help from the Department of International Trade. Half of our exports go to the EU and those pallets over there are going to Holland, Germany and Denmark.”
“I don’t know what will happen to our EU business after Brexit, but we have all the government-suggested systems in place: E-Z certs, EORI, TSP, DDN and we have done everything else recommended by our local Chamber of Commerce. We are as ready for Brexit as we’ll ever be.”
“Good” he replied, “Will this new machine also cut your costs ?”
Shaking my head, I sighed. “We can’t compete with the mega factories in Europe running 24/7 or with the sweatshops in the far east paying a dollar a day. Our USP is speed of delivery. If a customer knows what they want in six month’s time then they buy cheaper abroad. If they need it next week they come to us, and they don’t quibble about price. Our aim is to be the quickest rather than the cheapest, which also provides us the flexibility to react quickly to new opportunities.”
Looking around at all the activity he asked, “When are you moving and how disruptive will that be ?”
“Next month”, I replied. “We are only moving a few miles, to a unit by the docks that we bought with a mortgage your bank provided. It needed gutting and completely refurbishing, but that meant we could fit it out to suit our needs. It’s a bit manic at the moment, but my son and son-in-law are managing the move and they are trying to minimise disruption to our ongoing business.”
Looking through his notes he pointed at a number “How will your mortgage repayment compare with your rent here ?”
“Cheaper,” I grinned, “We bought the new unit at a knock-down price because of the state it was in and, even with the cost of the refurbishment, it still reduces our fixed costs, which also gives us more resilience if the UK economy falters after Brexit.”
As we made our way back to the relative calm and quiet of my office, he asked: “Do you think the UK economy will falter ?”
Shrugging, I gestured for him to sit at my conference table, and moved a couple of packing boxes out of the way to sit down opposite him.” I don’t know what’s going to happen with Brexit. I’m not clever enough to see the future, but I will tell you this. We as a family discussed what the implications would be, made a plan, sorted out the financing, implemented the plan and by the end of next month we will be Brexit ready.
“We are moving to a factory with double the space and buying new machines with help from your bank. We have invested our profits from last year into fitting out our new factory, and we are doing all that because we believe that this country has a great future. Brexit may cause problems for some businesses but it will also create opportunities, for those of us who are willing and able to take advantage of those opportunities.”
“This is very impressive,” he commented looking up from his notebook. “I can see now why my colleagues rate you and your business so highly. When can we lend you more money to support your growth ?”
Reflecting on that visit made me realise that, after three years, all those businesses who want to prepare for Brexit will have done so by now. Yes, there will be losers from Brexit who will dominate the headlines, since bad news sells newspapers, but there will also be winners among those who have made the effort to prepare for Brexit. We have now perhaps reached the point where we are as a nation as Brexit-ready as we’ll ever be.