Writing and implementing a ‘Survival Strategy’ was most definitely not on the ‘To Do List’ when I started my working week on the 16th of March 2020. Global events surrounding the Coronavirus were dominating everyone’s lives and it was becoming very clear that it was about to impact every single one of us.
It was, and still is, a very troubling and fast moving situation and as I said last week it really didn’t feel like we could just carry on with the ‘business as usual’ approach. So what do you do as the founder and owner of a small business when faced with a world crisis on an unprecedented scale that has the potential to completely wipe out everything you have worked for and built up over the last 5 years?
My response was that you ‘batten down the hatches’ and do everything you can to survive it.
I can clearly remember Monday the 16th of March. I worked from home for the first few hours to really get my head around what was going on and take some time to think through what we as a business needed to do to manage this situation and the impact it was going to have.
As a team, we quickly recognised that the world around us was changing and how we communicated with our community was also going to have to change. We couldn’t carry on as normal doing the things that we would usually do; it didn’t feel appropriate. We had to adapt and approach this as we did with all our communication: in an open honest and direct way.
It was also becoming very clear to me that we were going to have to make some very difficult and tough decisions over the next few days and weeks. Decisions that would enable us to mitigate the risk of the business collapsing in these challenging circumstances.
In January we started 2020 implementing a ‘Growth Strategy’ which myself and the team were all playing our part in achieving. We had plans to increase our product offering, bringing in new styles in the Autumn, and were working towards expanding our online business and finding new ways of communicating and reaching more people that we could introduce FINDRA to.
On the 16TH of March that plan went from being a ‘Growth’ plan to a ‘Survival’ Plan.
In the Fashion and Textile Industry the timeline from designing a product to getting that product on the shelf is around 9-12 months. It starts with design and research, then fabric development, then prototyping of a design, fitting that product and wearer trialling it. Once signed off, we move to issuing a bulk order. We were well underway with this process; design developments had been issued at the start of the year with a view to bringing these into the range in Autumn 2020. We were working on website improvements and better communications and marketing plans all to fulfil our strategy and improve our business and offering to our customers.
When I began looking at a survival plan, my approach was to work back from the end of the year and what this might look like if the coming months were going to be very difficult. People were, at that point, being politely asked to socially isolate if they had symptoms. But we were also aware of the fact that more and more people were starting to feel uncomfortable going out and doing things that were not necessary, ie shopping for clothes. If our footfall was going to slow down in our stores then we would clearly see a drop in sales, and this would also impact on any wholesale partners we had too. If jobs were at risk and people had to think about how they would pay mortgages and buy food then unnecessary purchases would be bottom of the list of priorities. Online sales would also be impacted.
The outcome of all of this was becoming clear. Sales over the spring and summer would be decimated which would hit cash flow and mean we would have no income nor working capital to purchase new stock for the autumn/winter season or continue with our website or marketing plans.
So the first step was to halt all new development with our suppliers. We would not be in any position to buy new styles as we would already have a full stock room and no cash coming in.
With no sales and no money coming in, the next steps were about looking closely at our overheads and cutting back whilst protecting the team, their jobs and the business during what would be a very difficult period. With no sales and a customer base that had no appetite for shopping, all extra marketing activities would also have to cease.
Reviewing all overheads and taking a pretty drastic approach to any unnecessary costs was essential. Creating a plan which was based on the worst case scenario was important. It meant that we could clearly see what had to be done to survive and hopefully come out the other side with a business still intact and which we could hopefully rebuild. Plan for the worst and hope for the best.
It has been a difficult 10 days knowing that all that you and your team have worked for could be lost through no fault of our own. But we are not alone - we are just one of many business big and small across the world who have had to face these challenges. Being proactive has helped. Being decisive and acting fast meant we could take some sort of control of the situation in order to try and manage our way through things as best we could.
The recent government announcements have helped and I have to say, regardless of your politics, their intervention and support packages will be critical in helping us and many others to get through this (as long as there is little to no red tape!) Time is of the essence and if we are going to survive then we need to access this support easily and immediately.
We have no idea if we will come out the other side yet but I do know that myself and my team have done all we can to try and make that happen. I recognise that we are not designing or selling life enhancing products and I know for sure that at the end of the day everyone can survive without FINDRA.
But, - and its an important but - we have played our part in contributing to the economy over the last 5 years, through job creation, by manufacturing in the UK which contributes positively to the UK Fashion and Textile Industry, keeping key skilled workers in jobs and and in keeping an industry full of history and heritage alive. We have turned a derelict building on the high street of a small rural town into a vibrant and creative space that has held many wonderful events and talks as well as being an outwardly positive message to the local community that we can improve and breath new life into our high streets in a positive and innovative way. We have designed products that are sustainable and have a low impact on the environment and which have, in a simple way, made people happy. We have actively encouraged hundreds of people to get outdoors, be that through our own social walks or bike rides or through our sponsorship and or ambassadors campaigns.
So despite the fact that what we design and retail is effectively a non-essential product, our impact as a business is wide and losing business like FINDRA will have a devastating impact on many people in many communities across the country and the world economy. And we will all feel that.
There have been many low points in the last few weeks and very few highs, but the positives that have came along are clear to see. As a business we have had so many good wishes from our all our ‘friends of FINDRA’, our customers, our ambassadors and extended family wishing us all the best and supporting us through this very difficult times in a variety of ways.
It's this support that gives me and my team a great deal of strength during such a challenging time and gives me great belief that we will get through this and come out the other side stronger and ready to start again.
I am a great believer that things happen for a reason. The world pre-Covid-19 was spinning very fast. Everything from technology to lifestyle was moving at 100 miles an hour, there never seemed to be enough hours in the day to get everything done never mind stop and reflect on life. Despite many of us having way more of everything than ever before we didn’t seem to be content. This virus is doing a great deal of damage and will devastate the lives of many, but it is also forcing us to stop and reflect to look around us, to recognise the things we take for granted every single day.
There will be many negatives to come but there may also be deep and profound positives for all of us that we can build on and use to create a better future.
Take care everyone. I hope you and your families and friends keep safe and come through this difficult time and get to see the rainbow together.