Mis à jour : mars 22
Exactly a year ago President Macron addressed the nation and told us that all schools, colleges, universities etc. would be closed from the following Monday until further notice following a worrying rise in the number of cases of a new virus called Covid-19. In addition, all those over 70 years old were advised to stay at home. Four days later, on the 16th March 2020, President Macron announced that the country would go into lockdown from noon the following day. The country went crazy...supermarket shelves were stripped bare of pasta and toilet paper and the images shown on the television were beyond belief.
As for me...I cried. I simply burst into tears because I knew the scale of the impact this would have on my business and there was nothing I could do about it. For those that don't know me I started my own business as a boarding kennels and cattery in 2005 and have steadily built up a small but successful business over the past 15 years. My business relies completely on my clients being able to travel – whether they go away for business or pleasure they often can't take their pets with them, so they book them into my kennels and cattery in the knowledge that they will be well cared for whilst they are away. This is my sole income and the only means I have to support my family...my husband is retired and my teenage son is at lycée. The announcement of the lockdown meant that no-one was able to travel and therefore no-one needed to bring their pets into my boarding kennels and cattery. My only source of income was stripped away in that single announcement and that is why I sat there and cried.
Within the next few hours the emails and telephone calls came flooding in from those clients that had already made reservations for the weeks ahead, all with the same request...to cancel their bookings. Within the first week I had over 20 cancellations and by the end of the month there were over 70 cancellations. The worst day was the 21st March...every single phone call and email was a cancelled booking – 38 in just one day. By the end of 2020 I had more than 140 cancellations...over 20,000€ of lost revenue! Those figures don't take into consideration those clients who simply didn't book in the first place so my overall loss during 2020 was more than 50%.
Those first few weeks were terrifying...knowing that my only source of income had suddenly stopped and yet there were still bills to pay, food to buy and constant internet searches to find out how to get help. I followed all the advice that was available and did exactly as required. I had invested heavily in my new cattery in 2014 and had taken out a large bank loan to fund it, so the first step was to negotiate with my bank to 'pause' the loan repayments for 6 months...considered by the bank and the government long enough to get the business up and running again. Thankfully the government had wisely decided to postpone the monthly social security cotisations, which was a huge relief as they were a substantial part of my monthly outgoings. I am a very proud person and have never relied on benefits or handouts throughout my life – everything I have is because I have worked hard for it. There was a two-week period when I lost my job at the age of 19 and had to go to 'sign on' at the dole office in the UK. I was so ashamed and went in disguise so that no-one would recognise me! This current Covid situation is so different though – I found myself with no income through no fault of my own and being self-employed it quickly became apparent that there was no system for unemployment benefit here in France. However the government stepped up and announced that self-employed workers would get some financial help, the Fonds de Solidarite, during the lockdown period (March to May). This payment of 1500€ a month was a godsend and meant I could buy food for my family and pay the heating / electric bills, the various insurance direct debits, bank charges, VAT for the previous quarter and of course the accountant! The Fonds de Solidarite eased the financial burden but my kennels and cattery were empty -for the first time in over 15 years I had no furry friends to look after and no purpose to my days...