After a year that has felt decades-long, the country finally has a realistic – albeit rough – plan for coming out of lockdown permanently. Small businesses, which have shown heroic levels of resilience and adaptability throughout the Covid crisis, are beginning to make tentative plans for a post-Covid world.
One such business is COAT, a carbon-neutral paint company that launched in June 2020. The business has never known a world outside of Covid, but its eco-formulations, recycled packaging, and ethical supply operations have made a real connection with customers. We spoke remotely with co-founder Rob Abrahams – one of two Robs that founded the company – about the business’s experience weathering the coronavirus and its plans for the year ahead.
Standing out in a crowded industry
The home paint industry, a sector called ‘coatings’, involves ardent competition on price and a few luxury brands, but the founders of COAT discovered that they all shared a wasteful attitude that paid insufficient attention to the environment. That’s why they launched COAT – a simple, sustainable, environmentally conscious direct-to-consumer paint brand.
“Forget back-and-forth trips to DIY stores, millions of tiny colour chips, messy tester pots and five coats of paint – we’re changing the way people decorate their homes for good,” Rob says. The brand offers a curated colour range, ensuring that each product is ethically produced, and reusable ‘peel & stick’ swatches to minimise waste.
Ups and downs during the pandemic
Since COAT launched mid-pandemic, the business has never operated a storefront and has exclusively interacted with customers online and through the post. This was always a part of the business plan, but COAT was fortunate to have launched while people were spending more time at home and online.
However, the company has also seen its share of hardship. Rob says that the pandemic “definitely affected supply chains and, combined with Brexit at the start of 2021, resulted in slower deliveries.” He adds that overloading of the mail system also hurt the business’s ability to reach customers. “Starting a business in uncertain times has made us more aware of the importance of flexibility and the ability to change quickly.”
Using the right tools for the job
To succeed online, the team at COAT knew they needed to focus on strong customer journeys and open communication channels. In the three months leading up to launch, the team set everything up and established a presence on Google, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. “Driving traffic to a website and having an email address isn’t enough anymore – you’ve got to be visible and easily accessible in the places your customers are,” Rob advises.
The company also made effective use of the vibrant ecosystem of interconnected online services to run their business. They use Shopify for websites, Zendesk for aggregating communications, and Klaviyo for building automated CRM. And, Rob adds, “Xero is an absolute life-saver.”
He explains: “I’ve used other accounting software before that was made in-house by firms and had to add transactions and reconcile manually, and I can’t imagine doing that with how our business operates today – and thankfully, I don’t have to! The way Xero integrates with HMRC makes submitting tax returns a breeze too.”
Rob adds that “Xero has helped us grow our business by integrating directly with innovative funding providers like Uncapped.” He says that the business could share COAT’s financials with the underwriting team directly from Xero, all with a single click.
Remaining nimble in the post-Covid era
“The pandemic has probably taught us that you can’t plan for everything,” Rob says. “But personally, it has made me even more acutely aware of wanting to build a sustainable business.” He would prefer to grow the company in a healthy way, without the constant need for external funding.
Rob reports that the products are profitable and overheads are low, and that the business is prepared “to ride any waves”. In terms of advice for other growing businesses, Rob highlights the importance of “having a grip on the company finances and cash flow”, something he credits Xero for making “pretty easy”.
Despite the challenges of starting a business during a once-in-a-lifetime crisis, COAT has found success, and Rob concludes that “starting from this point means we’re relentlessly optimistic about the future”.
Visit our dedicated site for more resources, webinars, and inspirational stories to help you emerge stronger from the COVID-19 pandemic.