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The impact of Covid-19 from both a personal and business perspective
09/04/2020
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Dominc Speelman
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Dear Friends, Family and Colleagues ,   

I’d like to send my best wishes to you, your friends and businesses at this troubling time and share a personal perspective of how this has affected me, my family, my colleagues and businesses; while hopefully sharing some personal learning

I thought it might be helpful and encouraging for us all to share our experiences so that we can all help each other to get through these tough and unique times we have found ourselves in. 

So here is my, MAKE International and buyfair.global Covid-19 story so far…

On Sunday 15th March, my sister and I had an emotional chat with our parents which resulted in them isolating in Sussex for an open-ended amount of time. They are both in their 70s and my dad has COPD. Fortunately, my sister only lives 10 minutes away from them, so she is able to do all of their shopping when needed. My wife (Phoebe) and I came back to London that day with our 2 kids, Lula (10) and Indi (8). 

The following day I met with both the Directors of MAKE and buyfair and made the decision that we should get everyone ready to begin remote working for an indefinite period, in order to maintain their emotional and physical safety. By the Wednesday all had been organized and as of Thursday 19th March we were all set up in our own homes getting used to our new way of working and communicating with one another.  

I am very glad that as a team we were able to make this decision fairly early on. I feel this way I was able to protect the team and myself as much as possible by saving on commuting and office interaction. 

Developing symptoms…

I lent my father-in-law a laptop so he could work from home from that Thursday. I wiped it down and delivered it to his house with rubber gloves on and slid it into his house after letting myself in using the entry keypad. It all seemed really over-the-top at the time and we exchanged a smile, but I can’t tell you how relieved I am with hindsight as on the following Monday I developed my first Covid-19 symptoms (although even to this day I have not been tested!). 

The first symptom was a headache which I had for 6 days straight and this did not seem to dim with paracetamol. I developed a cough after day 3 as well as extraordinary body and spinal aches. That said, I could still join most work calls that week as I had moments when I didn’t feel too bad. On day 7 I awoke and thought that I had fought it off! So, on that Sunday I went for a walk on Wormwood Scrubs with the girls. Upon my return, I developed such fatigue that I could not even sit up when playing cards with Indi that I had to scramble up to bed. Once I got to the top of the stairs I was totally out of breath and freezing cold, so I got under the covers with all my clothes on. That night I developed a temperature and was quite scared as I had thought I was totally over it but now I seemed to have regressed to being worse than ever. 

The following 3 days were hard. The fatigue was like nothing that I had experienced before but this strangely was the only symptom apart from my cough. I am someone who has done at least 3 1-hour sessions of cardio per week for the last 2 years, but this fatigue was like I awoke every morning having run a marathon in my sleep. It was mentally very draining, depressing and worrying. 

By last Friday I began to feel the fatigue lift and felt that I was well on the way to recovery. By Monday 6th April, I had started to run again, 25 mins on that day, 35 minutes on the Tues and 45 minutes on Thurs. My lungs finally feel restored to pre-Covid!  

Despite going through all this, I have had to think about our new business word of the moment: ‘furloughing’. I have also had to try and understand how to keep both MAKE and buyfair alive 

 with the impact of Covid-19 becoming more and more obvious by the day. 

While this is clearly a very challenging time for retail, hospitality, interior designers, architect and developers alike our learnings and perspectives so far have been as follows: 

We must look after our family, friends, colleagues and communities 

As we have all realized Covid-19 is an invisible enemy and it’s imperative that we all adhere to the advice to ensure that we keep each other safe, avoid burdening our healthcare staff and system and work together to get out of the current lockdown as soon as we can. While we are in this situation, some very practical examples that I and my colleagues have been implement have been as follows: 

As many people have been doing our teams connect on a daily Teams video call to keep connected, maintain morale and think about how we can respond to a rapidly changing environment.  We’ve given daily ownership of part of these calls to each team member to keep changing up the format. In the last few days, we’ve cooked brownies and our colleague in India showed us how to make Chai tea. We’ve sketched together, played music, shared online Myers Briggs results and even learned puppetry. While these techniques have worked well and been very enjoyable, the power of face to face collaboration especially in fast growing start up, is greatly missed by the whole team and cannot be underestimated, for those who believe that our future is behind a screen.​​ 

We’ve also encouraged our staff who want to volunteer to serve the local community to spend up to half of their days doing this, while some of our workload has diminished and we’re very proud of them and while they are using their skills in the community, they are also learning more which I know they will be able to bring back to our business. 

It’s also a great time to learn new skills, so we are giving our staff an allowance to spend on online courses of their choice, so that they use this time to develop themselves and keep mentally active. 

However in the MAKE International business we have found ourselves having to furlough all staff. Wherever possible we have sought to do this only where staff are unable to fulfill their roles for the next few weeks, but it’s been emotionally very challenging and only last week, I was forced to make all our China QC staff redundant from MAKE international who have worked for us for over 10 years. This was an extremely sad and difficult decision but I felt I had no other choice.

 

Over at buyfair, however we have furloughed half of the team and as a non-salaried founder, myself and my co-founder Damon are assuming broader day to day responsibilities to cover the gaps, while speaking very regularly with our Board to consider how we use our time and resources in the very best way we can. Interestingly these tough times have also led to some platform development which probably would not have happened so quickly, had we not been in this situation. 

Finally, on a personal level my family and our team have been supporting elderly and at risk, local neighbors, friends and family with shopping and supplies and wherever possible we have sought to support local businesses in West London where I live, by continuing to buy food and produce locally. Local, sustainable buying is a key value for buyfair.global and we’re all living our brand  

All businesses are challenged, and we must collaborate together 

Now is the time for all business to collaborate together, be open about the challenges we are all facing and show each other as much support and flexibility as possible.  

At buyfair we have been reaching out to all of our sellers to see how we can help them in any way. Whether that be needing extra resources to help manage their inventory and auctions to keep them live on buyfair when they may be furloughing team members themselves. Meaning they are still visible to potential buyers increasing their revenue streams.

We have also been asking for the same flexibility from a few of our other suppliers such as negotiating reduced rent while we are unable to utilize our office and warehousing space. 

I have found that working together and trying to share the pain between us all is the best approach in this situation as if we don’t do this it is likely than none of our businesses will survive or return to the thriving businesses they were before Covid-19. 

Let’s all Get Ready for a bounce…

As we have seen in the very epicenter of this virus in the Wuhan province, an area that I am very familiar with from spending time with our suppliers in China, lockdown has now lifted, and life is beginning to return to normal. Shops, hotels, cafes, offices and transport systems, will reopen and while this may first happen regionally and nationally with restrictions in place, trade as we know it will eventually re-start. 

We’ve seen a number of business partners on buyfair.global already prepare for this. Sellers who are not selling much today are using their increased time to upload their stock (of which they now have a lot due to cancelled orders and a long manufacturing supply chain) to buyfair.global. They have told us there are a number of reasons for this such as using new platforms to find new audiences and open up a new sales channel, finding new buyers to quickly purchase their excess stock – especially stock that may be seasonal and ensuring the trade is local and regional where possible, should some restrictions remain for longer than we all hope. Clearly we’re delighted that premium brands are now seeing buyfair as an important marketplace to help them clear their stock backlog, find new customers and prepare for the bounce. 

Anyway, I hope this brief insight into my life and some of our work challenges gives some light relief or helps even in the slightest way. It would be great if any of you could share this and offer a response or insight into your newfound Covid-19 lives as well. 

Keep well. 

All the best, 

Dominic 

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