Covid hits some types of businesses particularly hard, but there’s inspiration to be found in stories of resilience and adaptation
Selling striking timepieces that celebrate Camden’s industrial heritage is usually brisk business for Anneke Short. Alongside her co-founder and husband Jerome Robert, they’ve built up a locally-born success story over recent years, but Covid threatened to turn back the clock.
How has COVID affected your business?
“As an independent brand with three physical retail locations, all in London, we were hit really hard by the closure of the stores. The impact of lockdown on our business was huge. We were very grateful for the furlough system, which really helped us pull through, but the struggle is far from over for small businesses like ours.”
What’s your current offering?
“A lot has changed. We took our time reopening and have currently opened two of our three stores (Greenwich remains closed for the time being), and even then only partial hours. The last thing we wanted to do was rush into things if we weren’t 100% ready. We took time so we could install screens, hand-sanitiser stations, and UV machines that disinfect the watches if people want to try them on. The staff all have personalised Camden Watch Company masks, too. What has stayed the same though, is our commitment to offering a personalised service to each and every one of our customers. We are having to be a little less ‘hands-on’ than usual, of course, but we still do our best to ensure our customers have a great experience.”
What have been your greatest concerns?
“The unknown was the scariest part, before lockdown really happened in early March. We were in a position where we had very few customers coming into the stores, sales had all but completely halted and we had no idea how we were going to get through. It felt like we were staring down the barrel of a gun. Then lockdown started and we watched the news updates avidly every day to see when shops were going to be officially closed, because surely then they would have to step in and help.”
What’s made you feel optimistic?
“We learnt that our fanbase is actually very strong, which was hugely reassuring and something we could never have tested out to the extent that lockdown did. We saw our customers rally around us at what was – and still is – a very complicated time. We also ended up selling a huge amount of facemarks, which is never something we expected. We originally made them for our staff only, but they proved so popular on social media that we got more made. We sold them at cost price and we kept having to get more stock, they were going so fast. That’s definitely something I wouldn’t have expected to say six months ago!”
Who would you like to collaborate with?
“We haven’t teamed up with anyone during this period, purely because the business switched to ‘survival mode’, but local collaborations are something we love. When we started out, before we had a permanent store, we offered a click-and-collect service with a local cafe, and last year we worked on a collaboration watch with local charity Camden Giving (read their Covid Story here). The first batch of those is sold out, but it will be back when we’re up and running properly again.”
The COVID-19 health crisis has burned our economic and cultural landscape much like a forest fire. But across a charred, razed environment, strong green shoots inevitably emerge.
CAMDENIST is a new collaborative local media platform, currently in beta mode and launching soon. Born from the smoldering ashes of this unprecedented era, it will provide fertile support for the regeneration of our communities, businesses and cultural spaces in the times ahead.
Worth following, too.