This article is by Michelle L’Huillier, managing director, Tom & Teddy. It’s part of a series where Business Leader talks to business owners about how they’ve managed in the last twelve months.
Despite all the challenges Covid-19 has thrown at businesses over the past 12 months, our Bristol-based father and son beachwear business grew 20% in 2020, driven primarily by an outstanding 128% surge in online sales.
It was also a year in which we received £350,000 from the government-backed Future Fund – part of a total of £750,000 in new investment – and were named Business of the Year in the 1-10 employees category in the 2020 Business Leader Awards.
Like all business owners, I knew last March that tough times lay ahead but of course the nature and extent of the problems were unknown at the time.
What we did know was that, with shops closed and travel restricted, we would have to take a step back and re-think several key facets of the business.
As our online channel was showing extraordinary growth, we used the time to focus on new product development as our loyal customer base had often reached out to us asking for more beachwear products.
From being a purely swimwear business, we now have non-swim shorts, caps, flip-flops and beach bags all in production, as well as T-shirts and polo shirts – a shift which would have taken place anyway, but which was accelerated by the pandemic.
Probably the biggest challenge over the past year has been remote working from home. As a small, marketing-driven business staffed by a young team, face-to-face contact and collaboration is key, quite apart from being more fun.
With a constant requirement for keeping on top of production levels and coming up with new campaigns, a business such as Tom & Teddy thrives on this kind of interaction and removing it at a stroke makes the job of leading an organisation that much more difficult.
Anyone running their own business knows about the constant pressure and that if you take your foot off the pedal for a minute, you lose momentum.
On top of this, as a parent of two young boys, there has also been home schooling to consider, something which has now of course come to an end.
Every day for the past year my alarm clock has gone off at 4.30am in order that me and my husband Jelle – who co-founded the business with me and who also runs his own business – could fit in all our commitments.
There is no doubt that the pandemic hastened the move to online shopping and that buying habits have changed fundamentally in the last year.
Unable to go out to the shops and department stores, people were at home, going online and looking for deals. It is mainly thanks to the internet that our business enjoyed such a successful year, with Australia – where Tom & Teddy was first conceived – the best performing market, partly due to its outdoor lifestyle which largely continued as lockdowns were less intrusive than they were across Europe.
Now, with spring around the corner, we are approaching our most important time of the year. Along with the period taking in Black Friday and Christmas, the six-week lead-up to Father’s Day in June normally sees a huge peak in online sales that is absolutely crucial to our overall performance.
As Tom & Teddy approaches its tenth anniversary early next year, the outlook is brightening and there is every reason to hope that the next 12 months will prove even more successful, as the global economy re-emerges from hibernation and people once more head to the beach.