And so the magical mystery tour continues. I don’t care if you’re a Government strategist or a fairground fortune teller – I’d defy anyone to predict what the UK will look like in a year’s (or even a month’s) time with any confidence.
In some ways, the juncture we’re at is exciting, even funny (I expect plenty of outsiders watching the chaos unfold are having a right old laugh at this tragic comedy). But it’s hard to see the funny side when the future of your business and personal life feels subject to the whims of our nation’s frustrated, flip-flopping leaders, and the profound sense of uncertainty the entire process continues to create.
We may not have a crystal ball, but we’ve got the rest of the media circus. We hear tales of eccentric individuals ‘prepping’ for the hardest no-deal outcomes by filling their homes with long-life food and water purification tablets. We read about plans to mobilise the army, about hospitals devoid of nurses, and – perhaps most astounding of all – about politicians from different parties joining forces.
Call it ‘Project Fear’ if you like, but none of us really knows where the speculation ends and the truth begins.
But let’s keep things in perspective. This isn’t an imminent natural disaster or nuclear attack. Making an omelette necessitates the breaking of a few eggs, and no-one ever said it would be easy (well, they might have done, but the referendum campaign feels like a lifetime ago), so we can probably afford not to take the extremes too seriously.
But, at the same time, we shouldn’t sit on our hands. There are measures which can (and should) be undertaken by any business – be it retail or supply – which will help future-proof it against the most likely eventualities.
You might be working at capacity already, but is there any space in your business that could accommodate a little excess stock? If you’re handling imports from the EU, are you on top of the necessary changes to customs paperwork a hard Brexit would precipitate? If you’re exporting to the EU, are you confident that your products are certified to the appropriate levels?
The BFM has issued its members with a guide that summarises the implications of a no-deal Brexit (and the Government offers its own advice for businesses). While there’s a chance that many of these safeguards will not be necessary, customers and business partners will doubtless appreciate the assurance that their flow of goods will continue (relatively) uninterrupted, whatever the outcome.
Logistics are key to this continuity, and the promise of effective, flexible and reliable deliveries will resonate all the stronger with Irish businesses, given the particular upheaval they’re facing – just look at how WS Dennison, a furniture logistics specialist headquartered in Country Antrim, is working with the industry to help forge the best delivery paths, whatever shape the border takes.
Ireland’s in the spotlight again in our February issue, where we profile Abbeylands Furniture, which is best known for its bold, colourful furnishings brand, Scatter Box. MD Caroline Horgan puts the situation succinctly: “I don’t think anyone really can [Brexit-proof their business] at this stage – but we’re certainly not just going to wait and see.”
Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst, indeed.
Paul Farley is editor-in-chief of Furniture News magazine.