The Covid-19 roller-coaster took off in earnest yesterday. I have described below the build-up to the lock-down over the last 10 days… it’s astonishing to me how this has crept up on us at Fair Trade Furniture. I’m sure with hindsight we will say that much of this could have been predicted and planned for as a business, but right now I am in shock, and completely unprepared for what is probably round the corner…
10 days ago, Coronavirus definitely felt like someone else’s problem.
We had of course followed the developments in China and Korea, and more recently in Italy, with a mixture of amazement and alarm. But the possibility of it coming here and having the same kind of effect seemed quite remote.
Just a week ago (Monday 16th March) we had our first Covid-19 Council of War with core team members, and agreed that we needed to prepare ourselves for the possibility of some shows being cancelled in April and May. I intimated that this could have a pretty bad effect on our season. The next day, much sooner than expected, 3 of our best shows were cancelled, and a fourth postponed. At one fell swoop, quarter 2 was wiped out, taking away 25% of this year’s turnover potential.
So the week proceeded to become a roller-coaster… as we were trying to absorb the potential impact of Italy or France-style containment measures being introduced in the UK, we found we were strangely busy taking orders. We actually had the best week of the year so far for sales, including a 48-hour turnaround on an order for two Semarang chairs for Prue’s brother Nick. He and his wife Jo were anticipating weeks of sitting around in self-isolation and decided they needed some of “Hugh’s comfy chairs” in a hurry!
Against this seemingly positive back-drop we then found a series of dramatic events and announcements unfolding before our eyes. By the end of the week we were gripped by Boris’s daily news briefing.
I had already planned a tour of 3 Malvern Garden Building sites for Monday 23rd. The purpose was to hand over exciting new point of sale materials and to brief the teams for the upcoming season. While I was visiting the Shepperton team, the Squires garden centre to which they are attached announced they were closing that afternoon (and not re-opening). And by the time I got back from my tour, Boris was officially announcing the lock-down arrangements for the UK.
So today we have to get ourselves organised, and quickly implement social distancing and safe practices at work. No more than one person in the office at a time, and the same in the workshop.
So many unanswered questions… what about deliveries? Can we keep the showroom open? What about our partners’ showrooms? How long will all this last? What’s the effect on cash-flow etc etc.
WOW! This is going to be challenging.