From paper to PPE – adapting a small business to beat coronavirus

iwoca customer, Alex Vergopoulos, changed his business model to meet the growing demand for personal protective equipment (PPE)

10 June 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has forced businesses to embrace change and adapt quickly to stay afloat. Restaurants across the UK have started delivering meals to their customers’ doors, while some pubs are now even offering takeaway pints. But amongst all of these innovative adaptations, few business owners will have embraced change to the same extent as Alex Vergopoulos.

Getting online, just in time

Pre-pandemic, Alex’s business – Fortoak – was a supplier of till roll, labels and paper products. But as many hospitality and retail businesses closed their doors, the demand for his products fell. Having run his business successfully for five years, Alex wanted his business to keep thriving and so looked for new opportunities emerging in a world living with coronavirus.

“Towards the end of February I got asked by a couple of my customers whether I was selling protective face masks or hand sanitiser,” says Alex. “Initially, I said “no”, but these customers were willing to pay me upfront and it got me thinking. I started speaking to one of my suppliers in China and we decided that he would start looking for PPE suppliers we could buy from quickly.”

Alex had already been planning to move his business online, but needed fast and flexible finance to get his new project off the ground. Unaware of what perfect timing this would turn out to be, he looked to iwoca.

“I’d been talking to iwoca about a year ago, as I wanted to see if I could arrange a loan just in case I needed it. I didn’t end up using it at the time, but then at the end of last year an acquisition opportunity came up that helped me move the business online. For me, the missing part of the puzzle was always online presence. iwoca helped me fill that gap at a time when cash flow was really tight.”

Providing PPE to those who need it

Alex used his platform and contacts to pivot into the PPE industry at a crucial moment. Recent research conducted by The British Medical Association found that a national shortage of PPE supplies had left many doctors feeling unsafe while at work, with 65% reporting that they didn’t feel entirely protected whilst working their shifts. 48% of doctors also reported that they had to buy their own protective equipment, or had received it as a donation.

Alex’s business adapted quickly to meet this new demand, and now sells medical gowns, face shields, surgical masks and much more. Having supplied more than 7 million items of PPE to those who need it most, his business is playing an important role in the provision of protective equipment for key workers. Since he started this new venture, his monthly revenue has more than tripled and with the majority of his customers paying upfront, he’s finally been able to breathe easily.

‘A seamless way of financing my business’

“Using iwoca has been a seamless way of financing my business,” says Alex. “It worked for me because I needed something quick and flexible. Time was up against me and traditional finance options would have been too slow. Using iwoca allowed me to take advantage of an opportunity and cover the cost of financing nicely.”

At iwoca, we understand that coronavirus is causing disruption to businesses big and small. We’ve proud to have been accredited as a lender for the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS), and are pleased to be able to offer loans of between £50,001 and £350,000 through the scheme. Our CBILS loans have been designed with you in mind, so you can get on with running your business. There's nothing to pay for the first 12 months, and it could help you get your business back on track. See if you can apply for a CBILS loan today.

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Dan is part of the content team at iwoca. He writes articles explaining financial topics, as well as guides on the best support for small businesses during coronavirus.

Article updated on: 15 July 2020

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