Starting out at the age of 14, Andy Ingman developed a passion for shoes, which saw him establish a career as a high-end cobbler, launching Ingman’s in 2018. “I really wanted to concentrate on repairing shoes with soles – goodyear welted, English shoes – and offer high-quality shoes, clothing and handmade leather goods for sale.,” says Andy.
“The transition wasn’t easy. We had to stock the boutique, which really ate into the cash, and the manufacturers took 12-18 months to respond to our approaches to support their repairs. They then needed to get comfortable with the skills we offered. Fortunately, our quality is bang on. We were already the official repairer for Barkers, but adding Cheaney and Loakes, really gave us the credentials to attract business.”
Lockdown panic and response
Ingman’s soon developed a reputation for excellence, attracting 5-star reviews for customer service at its Chesterfield shop, as well as launching a postal shoe repair service, to reach a broader customer base within the UK and Europe. And then the pandemic hit.
“That first week of lockdown was a week of sheer panic,” says Andy. “The fear of going out of business, of losing my house, of worrying about my kids, was overwhelming. But then, I spoke to my accountant and took a good look at how we could get through. The first step was to reduce costs and work safely, so I decided that I would furlough the staff and work on my own, with the support of our bookkeeper, Villa.
“The online side of the business suddenly became really important. Ecommerce was always something we were planning, but sometimes when you’re spinning a lot of plates and business is thriving, you get complacent. COVID-19 was a real slap round the face and I think, it’s when your business is on the line that you reshape your thinking and make brave decisions.”
COVID-19 was a real slap round the face and I think, it’s when your business is on the line that you reshape your thinking and make brave decisions.Andy Ingman, Owner, Ingmans
Adapting to new circumstances
One of those decisions was to prove particularly crucial. As the large shoemakers’ factories had to close, demand for repairs increased, and Andy’s master craftsman skills were in high demand. Andy invested in new machinery and doubled his repair capacity – a setting he’s termed ‘the COVID bunker’. At the same time, Andy offered a local delivery and drop-off service and used social media to spread the word.
“There’s a huge responsibility that comes with running a business,” says Andy. “It was a rollercoaster emotionally and there was a lot of pressure, particularly because we have such a close-knit team. You get to a stage where you’re running on adrenalin; where you decide what you’re doing, and you need to see it through.”
Steadying the finances
As well as taking advantage of the Government’s furlough scheme and a £25,000 grant, Andy also applied for a £30,000 bounce back loan from HSBC. “It was simple and straightforward to apply for,” says Andy. “It was like HSBC was putting an arm around my shoulder and offering me support. Having the funds available helps with the uncertainty.”
Despite the tough times, Andy decided that continuing to pay bills and setting money aside to meet the rent, was important to maintain good cash management. “It put pressure on me to keep the money coming in,” he says. “and as long as we could keep meeting the bills, we were doing ok.”
It was like HSBC was putting an arm around my shoulder and offering me support.Andy Ingman, Owner, Ingmans
Seeing the positives
As lockdown began to ease, Andy was able to start bringing staff back. “We initially brought back one member of staff part-time to help on the repair side,” he explains. “That theoretically could free me up to focus on promoting the ecommerce side of the business. Focusing on the external routes to create new business, rather than physical footfall in the shop, is one of the positives to come out of this. In these circumstances, survival is success but it’s good to have something positive going forward.”
Andy says he’s learnt a few things from the experience, not least his own ability to step up when it matters. “I did get mardy at one point,” he says, “but then you just have to dig deeper. It was tough furloughing staff, but the fact they could see me (and Villa) working hard to keep the business going has rekindled and enriched the team and they’ve returned really motivated for the next stage. It’s important to be transparent and open. I wear my heart on my sleeve and I think that builds trust and confidence.”