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Comment: JoJo Maman Bébé's ethical approach to coronavirus

The industry must navigate an ethical way through this crisis by providing support not only for businesses’ immediate teams but also international and developing world partners, says Maman Bébé founder Laura Tenison 

Closing our 99 stores across the UK, Ireland and US has obviously resulted in a dramatic loss of revenue for the business. Whilst we have not borrowed money since 2009, our cash reserves will not last long when over half our sales stream has been axed overnight. 

To compound our concerns, many of our international trade customers have postponed or cancelled their (committed) orders. However, some have taken delivery and are doing their best to keep trading. Fortunately, JoJo started as a mail-order company and we run a highly efficient website. Even so, eccomerce is less than half our revenue which is putting extraordinary pressure on the business.

As an exceptionally cautious and predominantly private and ethical business, we are doing what we can to ensure we continue to pay our teams and suppliers on time. We are looking for sensible support from all our larger advertising partners, suppliers and our commercial landlords, and many of them have been farsighted and supportive. 

It is clear that with so many retail businesses put under intolerable pressure, there will be even more fall out of bricks and mortar retailing. I’m appalled by the naivety of some commercial landlords who seem to be oblivious of the fact that to stay in business we need to invest in shipping our autumn 2020 stocks and designing spring 2021 styles. This situation is totally unprecedented.

Despite the madness taking place in the UK, we cannot forget our international suppliers who are relying on our support. Retailers in the first world have a responsibility to support their suppliers and factories in the developing world. Cancelling committed orders is going to have a hideous knock on to economies which don’t have the collateral of the UK.

We are working closely with our factories, re-scoping orders where possible, but making sure we do not put undue pressure on them which could lead to their collapse. A good brand needs good suppliers, this has to be a partnership and we have a deep sense of gratitude for the hard work and dedication they have put into making JoJo the well-respected brand we are today. 

Our charity initiative FAMTA (From a Mother to Another), which collects, sorts and distributed hundreds of thousands of pre-loved clothing and donates to those in need has seen a surge in demand in the past couple of weeks. We continue to supply our partner charities in the UK with emergency clothing packs sorted by sex, size and season making it super easy for them to distribute to those struggling. We are also working with some hospitals to make sure they have supplies of newborn baby clothing to hand if a mother arrives for an emergency birth.

To survive you need to plan carefully, working on your cashflow using a multitude of hypothesis and our amazing financial director is modelling cashflow again and again; today’s plans are no longer applicable tomorrow. Naturally, we are applying for all available business grants as per government guidelines.

Our dedicated warehouse team are much depleted due to all those who are vulnerable, self-isolating or staying home. With super-human efforts and a lot of help from the managers and some of the office teams, orders are being despatched within a few days of receipt and delivery delays are currently minimal.

The board and management is working alongside the warehouse teams picking and packing customer parcels. The JoJo board and management have always led from the front and we would never expect our employees to do anything we will not do ourselves. We are practising strict social distancing in every area of the site from the canteen to the car park and carrying out compulsive cleaning.  We wear gloves and masks are available. We have the floor marked out with 2m strips to remind us about social distancing at every step.

However, the hardworking team need some rest so we decided to close for a few days over Easter. This difficult trading time is not over yet and we need to retain our strength; there is a long way to go before we can hope for normal trading conditions to return.

We miss the camaraderie and family atmosphere of a collaborative office. JoJo has always been about the team. We bring our dogs to work, we have yoga classes at lunchtime, a vegetable garden and we socialise in the pub at the end of the day. 

Our directors who are all working from home, all available all hours to ensure they support their teams, re-configure our buying and restructure the marketing calendar. They are the backbone of the business, albeit well supported by incredible managers and teams. 

As the founder and CEO and having grown JoJo from kitchen table start-up 27 years ago to being the UK’s leading specialist mother and baby retailer, I am incredibly proud of the way our employees are working together to get through. Even our furloughed retail employees are keeping in touch on a social level via the company Yammer account, wishing those still working well and desperately keen to come back to the family as soon as government guidelines and safety concerns permit us to reopen. Our hearts go out to all those who are ill or have lost loved ones. We are trying to stay positive when there is much to be worried about and so much sorrow at home and across the world.


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