Martin Mason, managing director of footwear manufacturer and brand Tricker’s, explains how the 191-year-old Northampton business has reacted to the coronavirus epidemic.
Last week, I made the decision to suspend manufacturing at our Northampton factory until we are advised that staff can safely return to the business. Ensuring the safety and well-being of our employees and service partners continues to be our number-one commitment.
Here at Tricker’s, the beginning of 2020 could not look more different from this time one year ago. As England’s oldest shoemaker, we had started an exciting year last January by celebrating our 190-year anniversary with a visit to our factory by the Prince of Wales.
This visit was closely followed by the opening of a new Tricker’s store in the Aoyama district of Tokyo in Japan. The country was a natural choice for the new store, as Tricker’s has been exporting to this market for over 30 years. Our London store at 67 Jermyn Street has always enjoyed a regular pilgrimage of Japanese customers fascinated with the history of both the store and the brand.
China, as an export market, was also beginning to gain some good traction for us. As usual, this year started at Pitti Uomo in Florence, we had written quite a few orders for some Chinese customers and had even met a prospective new account from a store in Wuhan.
Our reaction to the early news coming out of China shorty after was one of sheer disbelief. We were witnessing a human tragedy on the scale of something our generation had never experienced before.
Within a few weeks, and around the time of trade shows Micam and Lineapelle when the whole footwear industry descends on northern Italy, there was an outbreak of Covid-19 that caused concern. It then quickly became very serious indeed, with an entire region eventually locked down and an ever growing death rate now greater than that of China.
Our sales agent lives in Lodi, one of the towns locked down in Lombardy and he was telling us that this was something the UK should take extremely seriously, as two friends of his had already died and many more hospitalised.
Two weeks ago, London was identified as a hotspot for transmission and, as a first measure, we shut both our Jermyn Street store and our factory shop on 19 March.
Despite the uncertainty, there are signs of some early recovery. After eight to 10 weeks, China is gradually getting back to normal, and shops are re-opening. We are still receiving orders daily from Japan, and they seem to be accepting that we will make the shoes whenever we can re-open the factory later in the year.
Northamptonshire has a long history of shoemaking, dating back to the 15th century. Tricker’s itself has survived both world wars and many other global events that could have derailed the business.
The Covid-19 pandemic will subside at some stage, and we will be back at work ready for the challenges ahead, making footwear in the county that has been doing it brilliantly for 500 years.