Annah Stretton talks about Covid-19 lockdown and the future
What have your main challenges been?
Our biggest challenge was the complete lack of income with the tap being turned off in level 4, in that so much of what we bank daily comes from our 10 physical retail sites across New Zealand.
We have not had a massive internet business until now; the pivot that we did with the face masks allowed us to really drive the internet base and from the masks came other synergistic offerings, a nurses headband that relieved the mask wearer’s ears etc .
In level 3 we were able to sell our clothes online and we were well geared up to go with some of our more casual gear. However, the AS label has its heart in events and weddings so there is still has a journey to go to activate the core business and sustainability. Even though the retail stores are now, open traffic has been slow, people are used to buying online and see the benefits of doing so, courier traffic (four times the Christmas levels) at the moment is a huge testimony to this. Events have not been cleared to go ahead at level 2, so there is a lot of uncertainty as to when they will actually happen.
What have your successes been?
Our success has been in the pivots; starting with the initial opportunity to work in level 4 as an essential service, to provide a large charity with 6000 fabric masks, along with many other charities and community organisations that were unable to access PPE in immediate time frames that we were able to help.
Success has also been in mobilising a local community to work with us to make the masks, to dust off infrastructure that we had (destined for the dump) and use fabric and trim that we previously had little use for that had accumulated over 28 years of our operations.
We have been able to offer four more jobs at HQ, are producing more locally for sale on line and supporting many in need (50 blankets sent to Kids Can for the early childcare centres they support).
On top of this we also pivoted the HQ cafe offering (Cafe Frock is no more). Looking at the support local theme we created “Most Wanted Cheese” to align with Dairy Country and in support of work we do in vulnerable communities (RAW).
What difference has moving to Level 2 made for you?
Our retail stores are now open, all our team are now back at work, and, fingers crossed, we should be able to pay the rents next month. The HQ cafe is now open and people can dine in as well as take away.
HQ in Morrinsville is thriving, we have established four new roles in Stretton Clothing (some still not recruited for).
We are loving fleshing out the new local opportunities that we can activate, many are in support of community or community supporting others – i.e. buy one we give one.
What long-term changes do you see yourself making to the way your business operates?
Plenty. Covid has given us all permission to rethink what we do, how we operate, what is important to us and to try new things (Most Wanted Cheese was certainly a result of this). I have been thinking about how to instigate this since I saw a similar food business being operated in a Sydney market a year ago.
But wait there’s more. I have always loved art (in fact my initial training was as an art student) so this is something we have amped up given the very droll Zoom backgrounds I have encountered over the many calls I have been involved in.
Roost is a homewear site of original art and photos that are well priced, very diverse and produced locally, that we are looking forward to driving forward. Many of the wallpapers have been in our retail stores as well as the light boxes; Roost is the digital collation of it all together and the increasing additions that make this an exciting new opportunity. These are all created and produced locally, maybe an exhibition in the Wallace gallery is the next target?
Lockdown has really got my creative and entrepreneurial juices going. I have loved all the opportunities that have appeared. Being able to support community has been at the heart of Stretton work for many years and we have truly had the chance to activate and extend this as well as pivot into other areas of design.
While the core of what we do in is still in slow start mode, we have thought about how we can bring more of the fashion to a broader and more diverse market, so we relooked at our prices and margins. We are aware that many New Zealanders are experiencing a real financial struggle from the Covid fallout and this uncertainly and difficulty will continue for many months, if not years, where discretionary “fashion” spend becomes a last cab off the rank for many.
However we also know that a fabulous new dress does wonders for morale, and people are committed to spending and supporting local brands, so our focus is to extend the availability of our collection by reducing our margins so we all share in this economic fallout and eventually drive business success together.