Jo Davies, owner of Cheshire-based boutique Black White Denim, says independents have the agility to survive the coronavirus crisis and fight it with positivity.
I’m not sure what I was feeling when I closed the shutters on Black White Denim on 23 March, not knowing if our boutique would ever re-open. Fear? Panic? Excitement, even?
My partner and I had coincidentally resolved to do as many new things as possible in 2020 and enjoy the novelty. We certainly hadn’t anticipated a serious situation like Covid-19.
However, the mindset holds true. We’re determined to embrace the challenge, survive and learn new skills along the way.
Survival is the keyword. We’ve worked out how much we need to break even over the next three months, and will roll this forecast on as the months pass. Borrowing isn’t an option, as it just delays the pain and becomes a crutch. We need to think our way out of the crisis. To hit the numbers on our “survival spreadsheet”, we came up with a simple, focused plan.
Minimise what’s going out
The government has been a big help: business rates have gone for a year, VAT is deferred, and we furloughed our staff immediately. Those supplier bills that haven’t yet been paid are in negotiation. We don’t think it’s fair that, because we’re at the end of the line, we should absorb all the downside.
We will need new stock at some point should we survive, and we fully intend to get it. Therefore, we have also drawn up our new “Black White Denim Covid-19 Terms of Business”, under which we will not place any orders unless our brand partners share the commercial burden and offer considerable discounts, and most have signed up.
Last week, we asked our landlords for a three-month rent-free period, urging them to see the long-term gain of still having a tenant when the pandemic is over, rather than another empty unit. No reply as yet.
Maximise what’s coming in
We are sitting on a locked shop full of stock, and that stock is our only source of revenue.
First, we appealed to our loyal customers whose trust we’ve worked so hard to gain, and they have responded magnificently. Yes, we have enticed them by discounting most brands by 40%, but how else are we going to empty those rails when the front door is locked? Tough times do require tough measures. We need the cash, and 40% off is a great incentive to customers.
Instagram has been an absolute boon, and tailored messaging is vital. Our philosophy of “Buy now, keep forever” strikes a chord when people are stuck at home wanting to justify scratching their shopping itch.
Each day, I post an Instagram video where I showcase one of our brands and, in the evening the orders come in. Buying our [own-brand line] BWD Basics too makes sense, and our customers tell us they live in them anyway. There’s nothing better to work from home in than premium loungewear.
To process the orders, I work alone in a sanitised shop: picking, packing and posting. The shop doors are locked and I process all the orders and deal with exchanges and returns. Our courier collects packages at 2pm each day and I push out the parcels in a disinfected crate, which he empties and pushes back to me before I disinfect it again.
Learn from this
Standing in front of a camera and presenting a clothing range with neither script nor editing isn’t as daunting as it seems if you know your stock inside out – as we always have – and you’ve got a smile on your face.
Likewise, tough negotiation is easier when your shop’s future is on the line and everyone else in the chain is similarly affected. There’s certainly a feeling that we’re all in this national crisis together and, therefore, there has to be give and take.
Above all, it’s the mindset I mentioned at the beginning – getting out of bed each day relishing the challenge of going into a locked shop on your own and finding ways to sell the rails of stock that surround you.
Operation Positivity has started well, but it is far too early to call whether the steady stream of business we’ve experienced will continue. As with the government’s 5pm briefings, we’re taking one day at a time.