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Awesome Merch – Response to COVID-19 & Safety Measures

Awesome Merch – Response to COVID-19 & Safety Measures

Hey everyone, Luke here, the founder of Awesome Merch. 

 

We hope everyone is doing OK during this time and I wanted to let you know Awesome’s response to Covid-19.

 

It’s been a privilege and a burden trying to look out for other people since I was 21 years old and it is something I am determined to continue throughout this difficult time. Whilst Awesome is of a considerable size these days, we are still an independent business and so are facing many of the challenges that our customers are facing.  

 

What have we been doing? 

 

We have been following and implementing government guidelines with every announcement. The guidance has been quite unclear and has changed day to day, with announcements often being made after hours leaving businesses like us with little time to react or make plans. We feel it’s the right time to give our customers and the public visibility on the steps we are taking.

 

Factory openings 

 

Our factory in Leeds is currently still open for business. Following government guidelines we are now working to get as many of the team working from home as possible. Over the last week all back office staff that are able to work from home have been instructed to do so. Following the government announcement on Monday evening (23rd March) we are working right now on plans to reduce the number of staff on site to 20% of our total workforce.  

 

Currently the government has not enforced the closure of factories. Where people need to work in a physical location the government says to continue to do so. This advice was somewhat unclear last night but we’ve sought clarification. A lot of factories around us are still open but we understand we need to take action to make conditions as safe as possible for those that are in work. Over the last two weeks we’ve worked with our people on any requests or concerns they have and we continue to do so.

 

The time has come for us to take further steps.  We will have minimal staff in the factory, on average there will be one member of staff per 1000 sq/ft which will allow us to implement social distancing in the safest environment possible. All other staff, where possible, will be given work from home instruction. We are also working on a furlough phase plan for production staff until things are clearer and this situation starts to improve.

 

Orders & customers

 

We are currently still taking and shipping orders. Like many other businesses our revenue dropped 75% overnight.  We are working on ways to mitigate this and we are confident of being able to keep the lights on. We also run over 50 websites and fulfillment for other businesses.  We have a commitment to our partners to try and keep them operating as long as possible.

 

The aim is to serve our customers for as long as the government allows us and says it is safe to do so. Let me repeat, we have not been mandated to close our doors.  If and when the government announces that as the next step then we will fully comply. It’s been amazing to see how much our team has pulled together during this time. I’d like to thank every one of them for their professionalism and hard work under these trying circumstances. 

 

We’ve already shipped products to customers that will generate over £500k for businesses, bands and artists in a period where for many their income has completely dried up and people are struggling and are worried about their future. Whilst we are operating at a significant loss, our primary aims during this time are to:

 

A) keep our people safe

B) keep supporting as many of our people as possible 

C) get products to customers (as this is crucial to help them stay afloat)

D) work through this in the most sensitive and balanced way so that Awesome can survive as a business and come out of this on steady ground.

 

Redundancies

 

In 15 years of being in business we’ve never had to let a person go for economic reasons but last week I had to make the heartbreaking decision to make 24 of our 105 team members redundant. The decision was taken and implemented before the government announcement regarding furloughed workers.  We are looking into what the government announcement means in regards to those already made redundant but that is still unclear. I believe it was the necessary and correct decision in order to safeguard the remaining 81 jobs and still be in a position to continue as a business.

 

We worked hard to find every person we had to say goodbye to alternative positions, we had a recruiter on site offering work at a comparable or higher salary than we were paying. The reasoning behind having to let people go is that we’ve seen significant growth over the last 2 years and our team has almost doubled in size. Over the winter months we carry all of our new staff through to spring and, as a result, operate at a loss. The reality is this year we will likely be trading at 50% of our forecast so if we did not take action we could run out of cash within 2 months. We would also come out of this period grossly over staffed and unable to meet our commitments to our employees, suppliers and customers. So with a heavy heart we had to say goodbye to some of our team.  

 

Government support

 

We welcomed the government’s announcement on support for companies and workers last Friday. However, the implementation of this is still somewhat unclear and I do not believe the government has gone far enough. It does not mean instant cash in the pockets of workers or businesses. Despite the announcement, it will still be a challenging time for businesses and their people. Every business is different, but as a manufacturing business that makes 700+ products our cost base is significant.  

 

Business loans: 

 

  • The government announced business loans early last week
  • The banks did not have this plan in place and have communicated frustration to me in regards to the government announcements
  • Now that loans have been announced it is clear that what is being offered will not cover 1 month of payroll for us at Awesome

 

Furloughed workers:

 

  • The Federation Of Small Business has said that the furloughed workers scheme is unclear.
  • We welcome this announcement but the implementation and parameters are still not 100% clear to us.

 

We have taken numerous steps to secure our position and viability as a company. This includes our own short term financing and reaching agreements with our landlord and suppliers to offset the challenge we are all facing. We are taking the necessary steps to get through this, but I want to reiterate again that we are an independent, self funded business. We are not Amazon, Tesco or Vistaprint and should not be judged the same way as them. We welcome further government support and clarification but we do not believe we can fully rely on this alone. The math says it wouldn’t be enough, hence us taking the outlined steps.

 

Positivity

 

The last 2 weeks have undoubtedly been scary. BUT what we’ve seen on our end leaves me optimistic and positive for the future. People have been coming together, getting creative and supporting each other on an unprecedented level. We are working on several things to help spread positivity and optimism through our communities, during what will likely be one of the most challenging periods any of us will live through. We are working day and night to support our staff and customers, trying to bring a smile to a few peoples faces.

 

That is all we can do in the face of this, and whilst we may not have all the answers we will continue to adapt in a way to support our people, customers and community. From myself and everyone at Awesome we are sending our best wishes to you all. We look forward to the future and getting back to some sense of normality sooner rather than later.

 

Thanks for your support

 

Luke 

Founder & CEO – Awesome Merchandise

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