As we approach the 1 year mark of the first lockdown I decided to write a blog about how it has affected me and my business. It's quite a lengthy tome so it will be published in several parts to make it easier to digest! Welcome to Part #2...
As the severity of the lockdown became apparent, the government offered another form of financial aid. The Prêt Garanti par l’État or P.G.E (known in the UK as the Bounceback Loan or BBL) was launched to help businesses through this difficult time and ideally to help them cover the costs of diversifying or modifying how they worked in order to continue trading during lockdown. It was a government-backed loan of up to 25% of the 2019 turnover, with no interest or repayments for the first 12 months, after which businesses had the choice of repaying the loan in full in one lump sum, or paying it back over the following 2-5 years at a relatively low interest rate. The trouble is that it was still a loan and not a grant...i.e. another debt to worry about! I had some very sleepless nights trying to weigh up the pros and cons of taking on another debt but eventually decided to go ahead with it for the following reasons:
it was made clear that the Fonds de Solidarite was only going to be offered for a limited time and would be withdrawn at the end of May as the lockdown measures were eased and businesses were expected to start trading as normal. The PGE would mean that I could continue to put food on the table and pay bills whilst waiting for the bookings to start coming in
with the banks and other financial institutions having to help out thousands of businesses throughout the country, it seems highly unlikely that they will be in any position to offer business loans at any time in the near future (perhaps even for many years to come). So any future plans to make improvements to the kennels or cattery would have little chance of materializing due to lack of funding
if I was lucky enough not to have to use it just to survive, then I had a choice of repaying it in full at the end of the 12 month term, or invest it in improvements to the kennels / cattery
Due to the nationwide lockdown the kennels and cattery remained empty for the rest of March, April and May. The lockdown was partially eased on the 11th May to allow travel within 100km's but my clients still couldn't go on holiday so the cancellations continued throughout May. Most of May was spent refreshing the kennels – repainting all the walls and laying non-slip tiles in the outdoor runs and corridor in time for the rush of bookings that I hoped for once restrictions were eased further. Sadly there was no rush and in fact I only had one dog booked in for the last two weeks of May. With further easing of restrictions during June, the phone started ringing again and the bookings started to trickle in, but by no means in any great number and predominantly from my French clients wanting a weekend away. The travel restrictions still meant that my British customers couldn't travel back to the UK to see their families and any foreign holidays were still banned.
However, at this stage the government felt that most business other than the tourism / hospitality sectors should be returning back to some sort of normality and put an end to the much-needed Fonds de Solidarite. The aid was still available to those businesses in the tourism / hospitality sector or those directly linked to them. Unfortunately the government couldn't see that boarding kennels and catteries were directly linked to the tourism / hospitality sector so the financial aid stopped and the social security cotisations were reinstated. Thankfully my French customers continued to make last-minute bookings throughout July and August and my turnover averaged about 50% compared to the previous years.
On a lighter note I celebrated my 50th birthday at the end of July and, at the beginning of the year had planned on taking a very rare holiday...just as well I didn't book anywhere! Instead I acknowledged that I was now well and truly on the scrapheap with the arrival of mammogram appointments, colon cancer test, personalised funeral plan leaflets, special life insurance polices etc. But the best was the free 'bladder leak underwear' sample that arrived in the letterbox...that's when I really knew that it was all downhill from here!