12 weeks in and we need to look to a new ‘normal’…

17th June 2020

Richard Rankin, our CEO writes in his weekly diary: Well, it is 12 weeks since all this started, and the world continues to feel very strange…  This week saw the death toll of COVID-19 go beyond 40,000 – a significant figure whichever way you look at it.  The numbers do nothing for anxiety levels and show we’re not completely out of the water yet.  As the wider retail sector opens further this week, I can’t help but be apprehensive of that potential spike we are regularly warned of on the Government’s daily updates and live in hope that unsafe behaviours don’t creep in.

Looking at the country’s financial figures, the UK’s economy shrank by 20.4% in April – the largest monthly contraction on record – as the country spent its first full month in lockdown.  The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said the “historic” fall affected virtually all areas of activity.  The contraction is three times greater than the decline seen during the whole of the 2008 to 2009 economic downturn but, and quite sensibly in my opinion, the Bank of England noted that it was not surprising and in-line with what they expected.  April will be the worst month as a number of restrictions were lifted during May, so let’s hope the next update on that front looks a little brighter.

As a business, we have of course been affected financially and on many other  levels, but given the unprecedented situation and the severity of the measures that had to be taken to contain the pandemic, we have to feel very fortunate that we are doing as well, if not better than expected. Overall, our position is unsurprisingly behind budget, and unlikely to catch up this year (and especially under the current circumstances), however, we are still well ahead of last year, ahead of our hastily created “lockdown budget” and overall still showing a healthy operating profit.  This was some very positive news I could report to my teams this week as I appreciate how worrying it must be for them all.

To underpin these results and drive the business forward, this week we kicked off the first of our Company Strategy Sessions for H&H Insurance Brokers and H&H Reeds and we will follow next week with Farmstock and H&H Land & Estates.  COVID-19, as well as Brexit, has created unavoidable consequences that we need to address over and above the usual business challenges and of course be alive to the opportunities that always arise at times like these. Also, given the pause we have had and the unpredictable nature of events currently, it’s important to plan and visualise what the future will look like for H&H Group as a whole, as well as our individual companies.  These engaging sessions will help us identify the opportunities, define our objectives and plan how we can support our farming customers, resulting in definitive outcomes and a route map of how we will achieve the vision over the next 12 months.

Our livestock division, Harrison and Hetherington, has this week launched the ‘Rising Stars’ pedigree online sheep sale of Beltex, Blue Texels, Badger Face Texels, Texels, Dutch Spotted and Blue Faced Leicesters.  The bidding window will run between 25th and 26th June and we are very excited to see how this goes.  We never predicted that COVID-19 would have us promoting our livestock in such a way, but there you go, these are extremely unusual times that require creative measures and I am so grateful of the ingenuity of the team to try new things and continue to get such impressive results for our customers.

Our H&H Reeds new look website has just gone live, and now fully captures the new branding but more importantly showcases what we, as an expanded business, can deliver.  Our recent merger with Dotcom Associates which has incorporated the Pedigree Farmers brand, means that we are now much better placed to help our farming customers to create ground-breaking industry-relevant websites.  This is something that has been part of our plans for some time so it feels quite an accomplishment to realise this right now.

12 weeks in, I continue to be firmly focused on mine, my family’s and my team’s mental health and wellbeing.  For mine, I have added lake swims to my daily exercise plan as the lockdown has eased.  However, I must say that these were rather more appealing in the warmer weather, so I am hoping this week that the sunshine decides to reappear.

Rain or shine, we all however need to remain vigilant and stay alert and stay safe 😊

Richard