Caroline McVey seems to have spent most of her recent life giving birth: first to Eve, now two, next to the Ribble Valley branch of The Wheel Specialist, and then to baby Alfred, four months ago.
Trying to breathe life into the empty shell of an industrial unit with a toddler running round was hard enough – especially when heavily pregnant – but then the pandemic came along and threw all her plans in the air.
Caroline and her husband Edd – she calls him her Superman – suddenly found themselves with reduced trade, fewer staff and hardly a moment to call their own as the pandemic laid waste to British business.
The nurseries shut their doors, she couldn’t leave Eve with her parents due to Covid restrictions, and once she’d been through the pregnancy and given birth to Alfred, she had to be able to feed him herself every two hours.
“It’s been a whirlwind 18 months,” says Caroline, in something of an understatement.
“Edd and I feel we’ve coped with it very well – but that’s only because of The Wheel Specialist’s Head Office and the support we’ve had from them.
“Everything they could do to help, they did, and extra. We had e-mails from them every day about grants, who to contact, bank offers, and payment breaks.
“We would have been really stuck without them. They’re worth every single penny we pay them every month in franchise fees.”
After nurturing their branch from a new-build shell into a state-of-the-art showroom and workshop, Caroline and Edd had months of training from the team at The Wheel Specialist – only for the pandemic to change everything from their own working hours to people’s spending patterns.
“We both have a huge passion for cars,” says Caroline. “Edd had used the Manchester branch and was really impressed with how they went about things.
“Becoming a franchisee of The Wheel Specialist was a huge investment, but It sang to us. I was blown away by it all.
“We opened with a bang in February 2020 and were just starting to find our feet when the pandemic struck.
“It was a real shock to the system. We were closed for weeks and were really worried because we had all these bills and no money coming in. It was scary.
“We still had traders doing insurance work, as well as being open for key workers and essential repair, but we initially had a drop in job volume.
“I was getting really, really tired, so had to shorten my days and Edd came in and did every single thing himself.”
Caroline is full of praise for her husband, very much her other half in business as well as in life.
“He gets up at 5am, starts work at six, and has late finishes when a customer needs a job done urgently.
“I can’t imagine not working with Edd. Without him, I would have crumbled.”
“The trade side of the business was a lot quieter than it might have been, and we didn’t have time to boost that.
“But the public side has been much better. People are spending on their cars because they couldn’t go on holiday and saved their money.”
As the lockdown eases, Edd is able to get out to visit the trade again, which will boost business, and Caroline, in between those two-hourly feeds, is doing front-of-house, the books and administration… as well as taking one enquiry after another about her baby and whether she’s had it yet.
“I love being in the office because I can put faces to names when people bring in their cars,” she smiles.
And what about the future?
“We have loads of plans,” she says. “And thanks to the support we receive from Head Office, we have no concerns now.”