Viewpoint: Diary of a spectacle designer
Tom Davies is bouncing back but finding it difficult to keep up
Author: Tom Davies
Every time I consume news at the moment, I think to myself, ‘grumble, grumble.’ No one seems to have any idea what’s going on. On one side, the UK government has done a fantastic job of supporting business, but in its attempts at herding the general public along, we’ve had more U-turns this past month than you’d find at an experimental toilet factory.
As a result, business is scratching its head and wondering what it should be doing.
Negative as that opening sounds, I’m really rather pleased with everything this month. After I got back from holiday, I set about rebuilding the business and it’s been a very exciting period. Why? Because the pandemic hasn’t bankrupted me for a start – that always helps brighten the mood. In fact, as we moved into September, the company is more profitable now than any time during the past. Sure, that’s because of extreme restructuring and government help – and other factors like our stores not paying business rates, rents linked to turnover and no longer having a factory in China sucking up all of our cash regardless of what we sell is a big bonus. Sales are returning this September – faster than we expected and that’s fantastic.
In other good government news, UK plc took a stake in my business. Yes, the taxpayer is now a shareholder in TD Tom Davies, as of last week. I’ve not really talked about this anywhere, but if I was to do a press release it would start with something like ‘in a boost to British manufacturing.’ I even wondered about offering shares to Tom Davies optical practice customers, for the whole hog as they say, and work in partnership. In these crazy days I’ll look at any opportunity.
It’s not all rosy. We might be shifting stock around the world faster than anticipated and selling in our stores at almost pre-Covid levels, but my bespoke production, the whole ethos of the business, is proving really, really difficult. The first batch we produced after China closed needed to be remade. The second batch was much better but annoyingly not quite as good quality Chinese output. The third batch was beautiful, and I have to say well done team to the team here – but let’s speed up now since these are three months late because orders are flooding in faster than we can make them.
If you have ever followed Tesla news, you might remember an Elon Musk story about sleeping at the factory and working 20 hours a day to get production speed up for a new model. Well, my wife might think something funny was going on if I did the same, but my priority this last three weeks has been all on production speed. It took me two years to get my China factory running smoothly – I’m trying to achieve the same results in England in two months.
One of the things I needed to do was simplify the company’s product offering, because I had a feeling there were simply too many options previously. I did get small outbreaks of anger from customers around the world and I had to instruct the sales teams to ‘let them go’ because that was old world thinking. We can’t do what we used to right now so let’s focus on what we can do. The restrictions didn’t seem to stop orders growing so I put draconian warnings on my system, such as ‘three months delivery times’ and that didn’t stem the flow. I started charging for the frames in advance and order levels kept rising. In the end, it was back to the factory floor for me as I worked on ways to speed things up.
I’ve always been the sort of person who goes all in when working, so when I listened to Radio 4 and heard about a rise in daily infections in the UK with lockdown looming over us again, along with clear as mud changes and advice for us all to listen to, I wondered: ‘Does anyone in power really know what’s going on?’
I grumble and moan because like everyone, I want to move on from Covid-19 but now I’ve no idea if I should be battening down the hatches until next year or grabbing the chance to grow.