Viewpoint: Diary of a spectacle designer
With everything going on in the world, Tom Davies thinks we could all do with some positivity
Author: Tom Davies
A cost-of-living crisis. War in Ukraine. The Covid-19 pandemic. Brexit. I’ve been in the eyewear business for 22 years and the brand celebrates its 20th birthday in October, but in all that time, I’ve never seen so many challenges coming at once.
I remember the financial crisis in 2008, but that was nothing in comparison. That was just one crisis to deal with – this particular run of events is almost comical. As if this wasn’t bad enough, the nation seems to want to stir up more doom for itself. Monkeypox. Strikes. Prince Andrew coming back into the Royal fold. A quick glance at the internet news and it’s feeling all a bit self-destructive. What we need is a bit more positivity in the nation.
If we compare ourselves to other countries, as the media loves to do, we can find fault in any part of our society. But it’s not all bad. It would be very difficult not to have enjoyed the jubilee for example. I certainly didn’t meet anyone who didn’t seem to love the Queen. A good dose of Britishness this month was enough to bond remainers and brexiters together, because I think deep down we all want to be unified. We are the United Kingdom after all. There wasn’t a mask in sight, so Covid seems to have been all but forgotten. Politicians gave up bickering for four days and even the weather held up for most of us. It just shows me that when we want to, we can all be a bit more positive, and all be a lot happier as a result.
This isn’t to say that people aren’t struggling, or business isn’t challenging. I have friends and family who are back to running on tight budgets and having to be more careful than ever before. Business is certainly more difficult this year, especially compared to last year’s bounce back.
Raw material prices have not only gone up, but we need to order nine months’ supply of acetate as delivery times are getting longer, not shorter. Staff all need pay rises and so I’ve just put my prices up in my retail stores this week, because this all needs paying for. Note to my wholesale customers, no changes to prices.
We have also struggled to recruit new staff that fit in with the company pay structure. Despite higher rates of pay offered in an advert for retail positions, ads which used to attract 15 applicants now get one or two. In my head office I’ve lost two good staff members this month to much larger salaries and all interviewees now want to work from home for half the week.
I usually say no, however, last week my wife was in America on a business trip and the ability to work from home became an advantage. I’m normally the one flying around the world so to find myself on the other side of the boot was a bit of a shock. With GCSE exam week, I was on extra duties with revision, robust meals, mental support, laundry, cleaning and Friday night teenage drinking. All that on top of being in the office dealing with the various crises around the world made me very sympathetic to anyone dealing with their family duties on their own, while trying to hold down a full-time job.
Is it time for me to change our workplace culture? My opposition to work from home has always been based around the way it can break up a team. It breeds discontent… or at least it did in the past. Staff in our retail stores or in production don’t like it when office-based staff get more flexibility than they are able to enjoy. At one interview last week, the candidate told me: ‘This is the new world, Tom.’ I didn’t hire him.
I’m currently working on a plan to introduce more flexibility into the workspace. Technology is supposed to help with this. I’m not sure I’m comfortable with one app we looked at last week that tracks staff’s location to see when they are in the workplace. I like to work on a trust basis. I’d expect that some people might take advantage of this flexibility, but overall, I think I’d win. Because if I’m going to say that the UK needs to be more positive right now, then I must be more positive in my business as well.