Vanessa Hodgson, founder and managing director of Suffolk- and Norfolk-based independent womenswear chain Collen & Clare, discusses how communicating amid the coronavirus crisis is the “only hope of moving forward”.
My day-to-day job before the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak was that of HR, finance, buying and sales director of a small independent retail business – the same job that so many of us had.
Today, amid the coronavirus lockdown, I have all those responsibilities, minus the sales director role, because we are effectively closed. As a limited company, I am a furloughed staff member in anticipation of 80% of my salary next month, if we can navigate the system to ensure this is paid.
By way of background, I am the owner of three independent retail stores in Suffolk and Norfolk called Collen & Clare. I started this business 18 years ago and have survived two ownership battles (one acrimonious, one less so), landlord rent disputes, bank restructuring challenges and every other daily battle that confronts us all as small business owners.
When asked in the past to comment publicly, I have always taken the view to keep one’s head below the parapet and to pick one’s battles. Well, perhaps in these unprecedented days, that time has come.
In the week or so since the new coronavirus has taken hold, I have seen more transparency, honesty and communication than I have in almost 20 years of retail experience. Before this career, I was an investment banker and, trust me, there was little transparency there either.
Asked to comment personally on how this is affecting my business I could easily fill a page (or two) with my stresses about personnel, cashflow forecasting, online opportunities or many more subjects. But surely at this first step in a perhaps long journey we should be focused only on communicating.
I have long been convinced that communication is the only solution to every challenge. We all have a different perspective, set of beliefs and understanding of every situation, and only by talking do we have any hope of moving forward.
I don’t, at this moment, feel that cancelling every order is the solution without communicating our reasons as to how we have come to that decision. Perhaps for a proforma order with a planned delivery date of September that is the best solution, but I think we have to talk on a case-by-case basis. This is easier said than done when, as I do, you have more than 100 active suppliers. But we are all in this together. None of us caused this, and we are all in an unbelievably tough position.
The spring 20 season was ahead of us all and, for now, it feels as though it will become the one season that just didn’t happen. How we fill this “lost season” is yet unknown, but I feel that we have to come together, somehow, to make a plan. If we discount in a few weeks can we agree by how much, and can we talk sensibly when we know more about how we can move forward?
For some this may be the final straw in a long battle but for me, today, I am planning and ready for the fight.