On the day of lockdown the shop and workshops closed down. I, along with three others, maintained the online shop and swatch service allowing customers to still order from henrypoole.com. I’m pleased to say that on July 6th we opened up again, and it was a pleasure to welcome our cutters back. Our workshops are due to open on 1st August on a rota basis to allow for social distancing and picking up work again.
What has the situation taught you about leadership?
What I’ve learnt from Covid is to go back to basics. It has given me the opportunity to cover all divisions of Henry Poole - from sales to manufacturing to dispatching - and therefore the chance to review how the business worked, as I have had to cover many areas whilst staff were furloughed. We were also given the time to 'think outside the box' - for example a number of staff got involved with creating PPE for some of the London hospitals: scrubs, mask etc. which gave us the wherewithal to create our very own house check masks, which has developed into an amazing online order service.
In terms of supporting the wider business, Savile Row is renowned for tailoring and is a brand ambassador for London, so one of the earliest and most important opportunities was to reach out to the landlords and manage how we go forward in this crisis. There has never been a more important time to speak to them, and for them to listen.
How have you found the first few weeks of reopening?
We are lucky enough to have a showroom, fittings rooms and cutting room area on the ground floor. This has meant we have been able to open it up and allow more space for social distancing. We have effectively extended the showroom into the cutting room, hopefully making the customers feel safe and relaxed. Clients are asking to sanitise their hands on arrival. Hand sanitiser is also available in the seating areas and fitting rooms. During fittings cutters wear face visors and gloves.
What do you see as the potential long-lasting changes to your business?
With 70% of our business being overseas and 30% domestic it is critical that we try and open up London again and get customers travelling back here. Our clients have always enjoyed staying in London hotels and dining in restaurants. Part of their trips was to buy suits and sports jackets from Henry Poole and I’m sure to visit many other Walpole members. The other part of business is our overseas trunk shows which enable us to travel to cities all over the world including the USA, Europe and the Far East. This is essential to do as soon as possible.
Going forward, I feel that our service ability will go up a gear and go to customers in their homes and offices as opposed to coming into the shop. There is also the ability to do online consultations and order swatches from our website meaning existing customers won’t need to come into the shop until their fitting is ready. During our 200-year history we have always adapted to the changing times and this is no different: we will always give the very best personal experience we can, whilst keeping customers and staff safe.
How could government further support retail recovery?
We have a commitment to train apprentices which can take three years, but there is much pressure on companies to provide financial support throughout these apprenticeships; it’s an intricate part of the industry. While it’s imperative that we continue to train, the downturn in business means support from the government to ensure the future of Savile Row and our tailoring businesses would be hugely appreciated.