Simon Carter: ‘Don’t use this an opportunity to stitch up suppliers’
Simon Carter, founder of the eponymous menswear brand, discusses the impact of the Coronavirus outbreak on his business and how he is handling the changing situation in the UK and overseas.
I run the Simon Carter menswear business, which I founded in 1985 with a range of cufflinks and has since expanded to a full lifestyle range. We supply leading retailers in the UK and overseas, have four of our own shops in London, a private label operation and a growing business in India.
We have closed our four stores and they look like they will be OK thanks to the government support package. All our shops fall into the category that qualifies for a grant, which is good, and the abolition of rates for a year is also really helpful however I am very aware that lots of other businesses haven’t been able to access the schemes in the way that we have. All our retail staff are currently furloughed, which is another really good scheme.
Luckily our landlords have generally been supportive and I’d recommend having a conversation with them if you can. Keep the dialogue going.
Our wholesale has been stripped back to the absolute minimum but we still have a few of our team working on mailouts and designers building up a back catalogue of new designs that will be ready to go when the time comes. We are also using this time to develop our website for Simon Carter Bespoke, our growing private label business which sees us develop accessories for a range of brands and retailers in the UK and overseas. The rest of the team has now been furloughed.
Our website is still up and running and we’re consolidating our orders so we are shipping every other day. We have suspended next day delivery. Cash is king right now, so we took the tough decision to do a deep sale on our shirts, which we never discount as they are our ‘crown jewels’ but it brought in much-needed working capital. By being focused on one product, rather than a blanket discount across the whole business, it made us appear less desperate. Although these are very tough times, brand values are also critical and must not be lost as they will be hard to recover once this is over.
Our Indian business is currently on hold, which is frustrating because we were due to be opening a raft of new stores there this year. In South Korea, we are still doing sampling and retail trials.
There is nothing else that we, as a business, can do at the moment. My main personal concern is the welfare of my staff and I call all my furloughed team every week to have a chat and check they are OK. We don’t know how long this will last for.
My approach at the moment is that if you don’t need the expense, cut it, but don’t use this as an opportunity to stitch up suppliers. We are hearing stories of brands and retailers that are doing that but in my opinion it won’t serve them well in the longer term. The supply chains are going to be ravaged after this and you will need them. People will remember.
Cut costs and try to keep your cash where you can but you will be judged at the end of this. Try and make low level payment plans at the very least. Similarly, the Coronavirus Jobs Retention Scheme is very generous scheme. Be very careful with the furlough process and don’t abuse it. The government will be checking up.
Lastly, do take advantage of the networks around you, plus the advice and guidance available from UKFT. Other companies are going through the same things at the same time and there is power in community.
UKFT is in constant dialogue with the government and is outlining the latest support available for businesses on our website. We will update the details as and when the situation changes.