Cathleen Nicol, founder of luxury accessories brand C. Nicol Studio, explains how small businesses are coping with the dramatic, swift changing challenges of the Coronavirus crisis.
Uncertainty is the hardest thing, we can’t plan effectively. The impact has really only hit home in the last few days. The escalation has been so fast that we hadn’t had time to change things – only over the last few days have we had to make changes.
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New stockists that we were set to deliver to are closed until further notice in France and Spain . We are stocked with Fortnum and Mason in London, at the moment things are normal but I think that it’s only a matter of time before most retailers have to close.
Other, larger brands have contingency budgets and can shift to a digital focus very quickly. I’ve spoken to several brands who have said that online sales or traffic has increased already. But it’s not so easy for a small brand like us.
If we have stock that customers no longer want because of closures, then we’ll have to shift that to digital and invest more in digital marketing and ecommerce. We’re having to bring forward our plans to invest and increase what we do digitally, but we didn’t have budget set aside to do this so it will be a challenge.
We manufacture in Europe and have made everything we need for the spring season. Stock is either with me or has been sent to retailers. However, with the closures, we estimate that they won’t need at least 50% of the stock we have.
Our spring and summer deliveries are set for the next 4-6 weeks. Some of the retailers sell online, and some have very loyal customers, who may place orders over the phone if stores are shut. However, we are assuming that they will not need all those deliveries now. Once they confirm that they’re not taking the stock, then we will use it for our ecommerce site instead.
We’re trying to look and see what can be done to mitigate the situation, but pushing product out there at this kind of time isn’t really the right tone. We have to be careful to balance messaging and still maintain sales to keep the business running.
I am optimistic, it will set us back, but it won’t be the end of us. We just have to be clever about what we’re spending on and keep talking to our stockists.
While people have stopped buying, stockists are telling us that they are setting budgets for our brand: they can’t make the buy now but they will later, once this is over. Some UK stockists have told us that as they don’t know what’s happening, they are not confirming orders right now but are setting aside budget for the future, for September and October deliveries. It’s a positive thing to hear.
There’s no doubt that this will also impact the new season. We manufacture in Europe and we’d typically need initial samples around early July to send to customers. We may need to do more of this for the season ahead, if trade shows and show rooms are cancelled – sending samples to buyers for them to review.
That would work with our current stockists, and some indies might be willing to take a small order based on a lookbook and knowing the brand – which has happened before. However, most buyers would want to see and feel the product especially as we are at the premium end of the market. We want our buyers to see our product and have the same confidence in it that we do.
For now, I’m trying to be optimistic and positive, as a business we have to curtail costs wherever possible. We need to get through the next few months, and then start taking more orders in the late summer.