Gifts Today magazine

Classic Canes Q&A Covid 19/online interview special

Gifts Today is aiming to be the online hub of our industry amid these uncertain times and are running regular online interviews with key suppliers. Here we talk to Classic Canes' MD Charlotte Gillan who talks about coping with the crisis and her confidence in her fabulous family company

Charlotte, how are you all? How’s your team’s morale?
We are all fit and healthy, fingers crossed, and busy making contingency plans. Morale is good but everyone knows that the situation is changing fast and that we may have to reduce staffing hours etc. On the plus side we have been eating the smart chocolate biscuits we were saving for the annual visits of the accountant and the bank manager as they won’t be visiting us now.

How are you coping with staffing levels – ensuring staff are okay and that you’re abiding by government regulations? Do you have back-up plans?
We have various plans depending on how much business is affected and the small print of the contracts has been checked very carefully. Our employees have all been with us a long time and have been very loyal, so the least we can do is to try to minimise the impact on them as far as we can. That said, we are a family business and that means there is always a reserve of labour that we don’t have to pay if all else fails.

Are you a company where some staff can comfortably work remotely?
No. There is virtually nothing most of the employees can do from home.

How clear have you found government guidelines so far?
Quite clear. We are hoping to hear good news about wage guarantees in the next few days as that would relieve a lot of the stress and tension for many people, if it is possible.

Do you feel the government is offering enough support?

It is very frustrating that the government is focussing on the visible businesses such as shops and pubs and apparently forgetting about the wholesalers who supply them, who are just as badly affected. I think the government will have to offer a lot more. Most businesses will be running worst-case scenario cash flow forecasts just now and will be finding that a £10,000 grant per company as has been suggested will go virtually nowhere towards alleviating the problems of dwindling incomes versus fixed costs.

Business strategies you have in place to assist the continual smooth running of your business?
We have plenty of stock and as long as there are team members fit to work here we can process orders as required. It will be a very difficult time for businesses that have subscribed to business principles such as just-in-time buying, highly geared borrowing and extracting as much profit as possible from the company; these strategies are going to make them very exposed now. As Warren Buffet once said, the tide is going out and soon we will see who has been swimming without a costume.

Do you have any helpful advice you'd offer retailers?
Cashflow, cashflow, cashflow. Where will you be in three months’ time if sales dip 40%, 60%, 80%? Order little and often from your suppliers and, if you get into trouble with making your payments to them, contact them early to discuss the situation. Usually it is possible to make a plan to cope, but retailers who stop talking to their suppliers can soon find their stock repossessed in a situation like this, and then they can’t trade their way out of their problems.

Do you have any additional information or imagery of new ranges you could circulate to retailers to put onto their own websites should their bricks and mortar store have to close?
Product and lifestyle photography of our entire range, plus extended product descriptions, is available for all account-holders to download; they just need to contact us for instructions.

Have you currently got good stock levels to meet supply demand and the logistics in place to aim for smooth delivery?
We have lots of stock. We are very well placed to respond to any panic-buying of walking sticks!

Do you feel that you may have any stock issues on the horizon and, if so, how will you seek to overcome these?
No, we are confident we have plenty of stock to meet customers’ requirements for the foreseeable future.

What’s your online presence and social media set-up like? Do you plan on boosting your online presence in weeks to come?
Anyone who is interested in walking sticks will surely find us online or on social media. Future plans are all under discussion at the moment.

How will you continue to drive awareness to your product ranges?
As always, personal and regular contact with the customers is the best method. We have 700+ models of walking sticks, seat sticks and umbrellas, many of which help with specific mobility issues, so we need to promote how much practical help they are to people, housebound or otherwise.

What can Gifts Today do to provide you with to help you with your current objectives?
Keep up the good spirits of the retailers and their suppliers. It is going to be tough for all of us but disasters never last forever. Open a bottle of wine and toast to better days to come.

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