Published on 29/03/2021
James Morris, Trafalgar Marquees
  • Marquee hire business initially lost 90 per cent of revenues because of pandemic lockdowns
  • Company switched from corporate events to providing temporary space for COVID-19 testing centres and school classrooms
  • Owner helped by Aston Small Business Leadership programme, now relaunching as government-backed Help to Grow: Management scheme

The owner of a marquee hire company is taking something back from COVID-19 after the pandemic almost destroyed his usual business operations overnight.

James Morris, who launched Trafalgar Marquees in 2007 while still a student, had seen his annual turnover grow to more than £1 million by hiring out temporary structures for summer parties and large corporate events.

But when the pandemic struck in March last year, many orders from regular clients were halted and Mr Morris had to totally re-think the business and discover brand new markets.

He has already restored almost half of the company's previous turnover by adapting to provide solutions for today’s social distancing, including marquees for the NHS’s COVID-19 testing centres.

Mr Morris was talking about his experiences in the latest episode of the podcast series ‘Aston means business: SMEs building resilience to COVID-19 challenges’, presented by journalist Steve Dyson.

He said: “It seems bizarre that we had a business that relied on people gathering and meeting each other when we talk about it now. We were lucky we already had a diverse portfolio of customers, quite a few in the construction industry, so we continued to solve their problems in a different way.

“But we had to really rethink our business and strip it down to its core: we provide additional space to our clients. This time it wasn’t for big emotional occasions or big summer corporate events, [but] we were creating additional space for socially distanced canteens or temporary classrooms.”

Mr Morris, whose business employs 20 full time staff, has now created a new brand called Trafalgar Structures, focusing on longer-term hire such as helping schools with extra space, and assisting the government with its pandemic projects.

He said: “We are really proud to help and have supported where we can, and that includes various structures for the NHS, like COVID-19 testing and waiting rooms. We have had to innovate, pivot the business, and change what we used to do. It’s having everyone adopt that growth mind-set.”

Mr Morris praised Aston University’s Small Business Leadership Programme for helping to reinforce the need to change, and added: “They gave us the insight and tools to operate in a modern way and really put innovation at the heart of what we do.”

Mark Hart, professor of Small Business and Entrepreneurship at Aston University, was also interviewed for the podcast, and explained how he came across Trafalgar when Mr Morris responded to a tweet about the business school’s programme last summer.

Prof Hart said: “His corporate clients weren’t coming back to him, and he asked: ‘What can I do?’. One of the big things driving James was innovation, thinking what else could he be doing and how well he could respond to other opportunities. He has managed to keep the business going and I am very impressed with him getting back to a half million-pound turnover again.”

Prof Hart said the Small Business Leadership Programme, operated by Aston and 20 other business schools across England, had been “instrumental” in helping nearly 2,500 SMEs at a “very crucial time”. The programme is now being replaced by the Help to Grow: Management scheme announced in chancellor Rishi Sunak’s budget on 3 March, with Aston once again centrally involved.

Prof Hart said: “It’s a very ambitious programme, giving business schools which have got the Small Business Charter accreditation, like Aston, a management and leadership training programme to upskill the workforce because we know that’s crucial for growth, productivity and innovation.”

He said an estimated 30,000 businesses will have benefited from the Help to Grow: Management programme by 2024. More information is available at www.smallbusinesscharter.org.

Prof Hart added: “I welcome the investment the government is making and think it will be a tremendous boost to the economy. Within 24 hours of the chancellor announcing this there were nearly 4,000 expressions of interest, so there is huge demand.”

▪ Episode 7 of ‘Aston means business’ podcast can be found at https://www2.aston.ac.uk/aston-business-school/podcast.

ENDS

Notes to editors

About Aston University

Founded in 1895 and a University since 1966, Aston is a long-established university led by its three main beneficiaries – students, business and the professions, and our region and society. Aston University is located in Birmingham and at the heart of a vibrant city and the campus houses all the university’s academic, social and accommodation facilities for our students. Professor Alec Cameron is the Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive.

For media enquiries in relation to this release, contact Rebecca Hume, Press and PR Officer, on 07557 745416 or email r.hume@aston.ac.uk

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