Viewpoint: Diary of a spectacle designer
Tom Davies tries to take stock of the first wave of effects coronavirus is having on the industry
Author: Tom Davies
On occasion, Optician’s editor, Simon Jones, has permitted me to use profanities in this column – just for fun. I’d love to use some now but not really for fun. In fact, I could sum up the last four weeks in one four letter word. I also thought I could write the column using emojis, which might be quite jolly. My old customer Carrie Fisher used to write all her Twitter posts in emojis and it would take you a good five minutes to work out what she was trying to say.
A few weeks ago, Mido was postponed and then Vision Expo in New York was cancelled. This is devastating for brands like mine. What really surprised me was a lack of commotion on Facebook from people like me and that’s because none of us really know what to say or do. Tradeshows are an important part of our rhythm and a focus for new launches, PR and, of course, sales.
I started planning some pop-up events in the US with a few other brands and then Trump says none of my cohorts can fly to America. Every day the world changes at a faster pace than your average year.
I was planning to launch three new brands in New York. It would have been my biggest ever tradeshow stand with a new acetate making machine as part of my Acetate Kitchen that I planned to launch. It was fantastic, epic, a triumph. I had staff flying over and a jazz party in a penthouse ready to go. When the show was cancelled, I shed a tear. Not for the £100,000 I’d just blown and not for the £1m sales I lost but for… no, it was for the lost £1m in sales.
Last month I was writing about getting the supply chain working and thinking about what effect this was having on our industry. It was amazing how much the whole world was linked to China in some form or another. With Italy in lockdown and China still scrambling to get working, who is making all the world’s glasses?
My little production in London is a mere blip on the global scale of eyewear production. I must confess that several brands have asked me to make frames for them and I’ve got a few projects that I’ve agreed to. It wasn’t really in my master plan but what’s really is keeping me awake at night is customer demand. I’m thankful for the work to keep the factory busy and hope the world has returned to some normality once they are ready to take delivery.
I might be able to fill my capacity with some nice high-end production from my eyewear friends but what about the next three months? How long is the Covid-19 going to last? What’s going to happen in the next four weeks? There are so many questions with more popping up every time I’m woken up by Radio 4 in the mornings. If you thought the whole subject of Brexit was overwhelming, it’s like bloody playschool compared to this virus.
I don’t know about you, but my retail in London is down 50% this week. I sent out emails to our customers, detailing our new policies to clean frames after each one is tried on and for staff to clean all test equipment before and after each eye test. I’ve even offered (shudder) free eye tests to try to boost the clinics.
My sales reps have been offering extended payment terms and I’m asking for the same from our suppliers but sales appointments are being cancelled faster than flights to the US.
So far everyone seems to be working together. I’m quite pleased to see and feel the human spirit across so many sectors. Our bank even called us the other day to ask what assistance they can offer, which is unheard of in 18 years of business.
Phew…I got through it with only one swear word. Someone in my office just sneezed and everyone laughed, nervously. What’s the world going to look like by the time I write my next column? It’s so tempting to write ‘f*** knows’ here, but obviously I can’t.