Growth and Innovation: learning from the SMEs

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It has been a turbulent few years for SMEs. From late payments and gig economy rights cases to economic uncertainty, their trajectory has been far from straightforward.

Yet, despite these challenges, UK SMEs have experienced extraordinary success.

In 2018, the combined annual turnover of UK SMEs was £2.0 trillion. This accounts for 52% of all turnover in the private business sector for the year.

Jonathan Smith, CEO of The APC explains that while it continues to be a tough climate to set up a new business, those that have already gained their first vital few customers are getting stronger and stronger.

Far from numbers alone, SMEs have remained strong pillars of their regional economies; innovated beyond their years and retained their human touch.

At The APC, we’re firm believers that SMEs are the backbone of the UK economy.

Many of our customers started working with us when they were sending just a few parcels a week, meaning we’ve had the privilege of accompanying them on their journeys of growth.

That’s why this year we launched the APC SME Growth Awards: to recognise the growth, community engagement and innovation across our UK-wide network of SME customers.

Judging the entries gave us the chance to have an in-depth look at case studies of SMEs from across the UK. It gave a true insight into the integral role played by SMEs in their local area – both at a business and community level.

Certainly, UK SMEs have many lessons to teach their larger counterparts. Here’s just a few of them:

Driving regional economies

SMEs are experts in driving regional economies and providing local employment.

Take, for example, the national winner of the APC SME Growth Awards: Wild Harbour Fish Company. It has increased its labour intake by 50% over the past year, translating its growth into momentum for the local economy and providing a strong source of local employment.

Finding the human face of innovation

Businesses of all sizes are under pressure to innovate and, for many, innovation is portrayed as something ‘new’ – a new technology, application or product.

SMEs teach us an important lesson about valuing the human face of innovation. They prove that lasting innovations always start with people, and gain their longevity by responding to their real needs and aspirations.

Pump Street Chocolate – the East England regional winner – demonstrates this perfectly. Having begun as a bakery in 2010, in 2012 the father-daughter team branched out into chocolate products. As this quickly outgrew the baking side of their business, they embraced confectionaries as their new focus.

Showing real community spirit

SMEs are experts in collaborating with other businesses. For example, our national winner Wild Harbour Fish Company uses its waste to power other local business. Fish frames and waste fish are given to local lobster and crab fishers to use as bait, and to waste disposal companies for use as fertiliser on local farms.

This also extends to wider community support; something that SMEs can do more effectively than some large corporations. For example, Shropshire-based GWR Fasteners stood out in the awards for its community support schemes for local schools and theatres; demonstrating the power of grassroots support.

Balancing convenience with growth

In an Amazon-dominated world, our SME customers face increasingly demanding expectations when it comes to delivery and convenience of service. They know that delivery options have a direct impact on growth prospects.

While investing in logistics, small businesses are careful not to lose their personal touch. They balance the customer-friendly ease of delivery with their fundamentally local approach, ensuring that they can stay true to their values without taking away from their bottom line.

Several thousand small and medium-sized businesses rely on our regional depots to help them reach their customers. Our role is to provide solutions for parcel collection and delivery that can keep up with their business growth. The relationship between our local depots and their SME customers proves the value of bespoke delivery solutions.

At The APC, we are proud to work with innovative, growing, community-focused small businesses. We grow with our customers to support them effectively, and prove how much they have to teach the big players.