by Emma Pownall
    Marketing Director


4th August 2020 | 5 min read

Backing Britain - How manufacturers can stay resilient in turbulent times

Sage Sessions Online roundup

Sage recently hosted a full-day virtual event focused on UK businesses. The aim was to provide practical advice from industry experts, customers and the Sage team on how to harness the power of technology to adapt, survive and thrive.

A session that will be of great interest to many of our manufacturing customers was ‘Backing Britain', hosted by Global Product Marketing Manager Sam Morrison. Sam was joined by Datel customer Playdale Playgrounds’ MD Barry Leahey, Product Manager at Sage Steve Tattum and Executive Editor of Zenoot TV Nick Peters to discuss manufacturing in the UK and where its heading.

UK manufacturing was booming and growing pre-COVID-19 with £400bn in product sales by UK manufacturers, then the pandemic hit and the manufacturing industry has seen a real impact. The May 2020 Make UK Manufacturing Monitor report highlighted that 70% of manufacturers had seen a decrease in orders and sales and only a quarter of manufactures expect to be back to full operating levels by the start of 2021.  

Where does this leave manufacturers today? The panel discussed the challenges and positives being seen within the industry. Here are the key takeaways from the session:

  • How have manufacturers adapted and shown resilience?

Barry kicked off the discussion by sharing his experience at Playdale of product innovation, “It usually takes us about 18 months to bring products to market and we brought one to the market in four weeks. We have brought out what we believe is a world first in a fully automated, robust and vandal resistant hand sanitiser station that can go into public parks and leisure facilities. For a team to come together, adapt and fast track a process was phenomenal to watch.”

Nick also echoed Playdale’s experience: “There are hundreds, if not thousands, of companies that have done what Playdale did – which is step up, change their production lines, change their product line ups in a way that is quite astonishing and could have not been even comprehended maybe even 5 years ago. Its quite extraordinary. Demonstrating that UK manufacturing is agile, nimble and quick to pivot.”

However, Nick also touched on the challenges facing manufacturers with uncertainty around cash flow, employment and the pressures that Brexit will bring to those trading overseas. His advice is that government, trade association and banks need to work together to ensure that UK manufacturers get through the next six to nine months.

  • How can manufactures leverage technology to help them in the future?

On the topic of technology, Nick’s thoughts were clear - manufacturers are not going to come out of this crisis unless they embrace digital technology and have a 360-degree view of their businesses. 

“You can’t take your business forward unless you have the data to help you guide the decision making.”

Nick argued that manufacturers must take on these technologies now because without them businesses will get left behind and he stressed that we cannot avoid losing businesses from the manufacturing community right now.

Steve added that manufacturers need to capitalise on what they have as well as looking to emerging technologies such as blockchain and IoT. Steve also believes that being more innovative and creative in the way that businesses have been during the lockdown period will enable future success, “Covid, all be it very unwelcome, has really accelerated the rate of adaption for many companies.”

  • What can UK manufacturers do to support each other and the UK economy?

With a focus on bringing business back to the UK and supporting the UK economy, Barry shared his experience on this topic, having both looked at the ‘Preston Model’ and also learning from other manufacturers within the community. Preston as a city encourages businesses to buy local although in Barry’s experience this isn’t always practical for large manufacturers. Instead, Playdale reached out to suppliers to find out where they get their supplies from to reduce risk in the supply chain and make changes required in the current environment.

Nick added that this is a great opportunity for UK manufacturing with a caveat, “It is absolutely critical to avoid complacency. If you imagine that we might be raising the walls a little bit and bringing so much more inside, that doesn’t mean we can scale back on being competitive on price, service and quality. All those things have to matter. We have to strive, no matter where our customers are - here or abroad, to have the best product, with the best price and the best service attached.”

  • Final thoughts and advice from the panellists

From Steve, a call to action to use the experience of lockdown to your advantage, “Focus on innovation and collaboration and build stronger and more flexible supply chains. COVID has forced us to act differently and we must continue to respond quickly because the market is never going to be the same again.”

Barry shared his thoughts on what manufacturers need to do right now to innovate for the future, “Fast track tech now. We have COVID, we’ve got Brexit, we’ve got a debt mountain building next year; margins are going to be suppressed. Take the pain of implementing tech now or maybe take the pain of failing in the future.”

And from Nick, some advice on who to turn to if you need support, “Don’t suffer in silence – seek advice. Seek advice from your vendors, look out for the networks of the universities and the Catapults, look for advice from other companies in your sector. Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate. Its going to be a new future and its going to need new ideas. Be at the forefront, be questioning. Do not suffer in silence.”

The keynote presentations and breakout sessions from Sage Sessions Online are available to watch on-demand by visiting the Sage Sessions Online web page here.