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Comment: We need to be ready for the new normal

Nick Whitworth, co-founder and managing director of Cornish sheepskin brand Celtic & Co, talks to Drapers about how the Drapers Footwear Award-winning label plans to pull through the coronavirus crisis.

Like everybody, we’re facing uncertainty and are unable to plan. We’re all struggling with the same issues as everybody else when it comes to warehouses, deliveries and trying to keep people safe while they work.

Unlike others, we’re slightly lucky this isn’t October, November or December, when we would have been a lot busier. We sell sheepskin outerwear and footwear, so we’re a very winter-led business.

But there is a fear that a second wave will come in autumn-winter.

We don’t know when anything is going to finish, stop or restart. It’s hard to do any sort of long-term forecast. But when we do, we need to look for a new normal. 

The world is not going to go back to the way it was. People will work differently, shop differently, socialise differently. It’s going to be a rapid change. What might otherwise take five or 10 years to happen will happen in one season.

So far, our UK business is holding up – without it we’d have no business at all. But it’s only dropped a couple of percentage points from where we’d expect in the spring.

We’re also making use of government support. We’ve just furloughed all our Newquay factory staff who make our boots and slippers after the raw material factories in Italy closed. But our warehouse is still working, albeit on reduced staff.

However, we don’t qualify for any rent relief because we’re over £51,000 in rateable value and we’re not a primary retail or entertainment business. So, we’ve got to pay, even though we can’t sell our stuff in stores.

International toll

The US side of the business is definitely struggling and is down 20%-22% year on year – and it may get worse over there.

We’re preparing for overall turnover to drop between 20% and 25% for this financial year.

As for autumn-winter, we’re assuming the worst, whether it will be trouble with supplies, a second wave of the virus, people being nervous and not spending money, or not all shops opening up again.

But if that doesn’t occur, we will be ready to stock up quickly and go full on again. People might bounce back and eat out every night, go places and dress up again.

Life has to continue at some point, and we need to be in a position to take advantage of that.

We’re going to aim to be ready for both – plan for a decrease but also be hopeful and ready for growth. We don’t want to miss any opportunities.

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