…and all through the house, noses were streaming and the PCR tests were out. I know, I know. It’s only October, but someone - who will remain nameless but whose name rhymes with Noliver - put Michael Buble on in the office, and it got us thinking.
The supermarkets have begun to stock the shelves with festive nibbles, the garden centres have snuck a few displays of baubles out amid the Halloween decor, and, whether we like it or not, we are rapidly approaching the festive season.
Christmas will be a little different this year; of that, we are fairly certain. But hopefully not as different as it was last year; with families separated or held apart at the last minute when the 5-day relaxation of lockdown rules was reduced to just one. Many people spent Christmas day alone whilst exhausted NHS staff worked day and night - it didn't feel particularly festive. And here we are, just 2 months away from Christmas 2021, and we have cautiously hopeful hearts. We have learned, we have adapted, and many have overcome both in a personal and business sense; but of course, many businesses have sadly succumbed to the often insurmountable challenges that Covid has presented, and our economy is just beginning its slow recovery - as if it, too, has long Covid.
Here at Marloe Watch Company, we haven’t been immune to that, but we are incredibly fortunate in that we've not only survived but have had a productive couple of years of growth, including relocating to our custom-built base in the beautiful Perthshire countryside, and managing to release a few new watches to our supportive customers. It hasn’t been without its challenges; Gordon found himself doing not only his ‘day job’ of designing and all things photography and videography, but managing fulfilment too amid one of the busiest periods of Marloe history - meaning long days and nights alone in our temporary office, unable to switch off from both the pressures of shipping to our customers and the whirlwind of design ideas, inspirations and frustrations which were trying to burst out of the confines of his head.
Even once I returned from maternity leave, and with Oliver working endlessly to do all the business management remotely, navigating fulfilment and shipping in a confined space without staff crossing paths, managing childcare issues due to isolation and illness, and significant supply chain and shipping problems in transforming our watches from tiny parts in Switzerland and Japan to the beautiful pieces on your wrists and in your homes around the world, made it an interesting time, to say the least.
The pandemic has set Marloe back about 6-12 months, in terms of where we hoped to be and the watches we hoped to release into the world in 2021. Take the Centenary, for example - it was not our intention to release this so closely after the release of the Bonneville and the Eyre, but with delays in manufacturing, it so happened that the Centenary was the next release which was ready to go. And so it went; and among the brilliant feedback, there were mumblings of “it’s too samey”, “I want something new from Marloe”, “I don’t want another Coniston, I want something totally different”; comments implying that our designs had become one-dimensional or lazy or uninspired. We can’t please everyone; we know that, and the world would be a boring place if everyone wanted to wear the same watch. The Centenary is special to us, and to many people, and that’s all we wanted - it takes its design cues from the aspects of inspiration which captivated us, and it’s a fitting homage as the official Campbell family commemorative piece. Meanwhile, even as I type, I can see final prototypes of other models glinting at me from a desk just a couple of metres away. There’s one on Gordon’s wrist, there’s another in a case in front of him, and another whose final product images are being rendered on the screen. Gordon doesn’t do ‘samey’. They’re coming; perhaps not in the order or on the dates that we would choose, if we had any control over anything, but they’re coming.
The effect of a pandemic on supply chains perhaps wasn’t something that the people responsible for the smooth linkage of said chains had ever had to think about pre-Covid. It had been a long time since humanity had faced such a world-altering pandemic; long enough that our generation simply didn’t think about it. BSE or ‘mad cow disease’ ravaged huge swathes of the farming industry, swine flu and SARS were mildly alarming, influenza comes and goes, but none of these prompted many changes to our daily lives. We were all in a routine and a flow and a pattern; things were ticking along for the UK. Supply chains are primarily designed for efficiency, with producers having outsourced important aspects of their operations and reduced the number of suppliers per product to as few as possible. The system has also been built around lean manufacturing, where companies strive to achieve ‘zero inventory’ and ‘just in time’ production. This all saves money, but companies can lose control and visibility of what they produce and import as a result. When a shock like Brexit or Covid comes along - or, both at once, as we were treated to in 2020 - making the usual flow impossible, things can get chaotic and grind to a halt very quickly. Perhaps that is why we have fared quite well; we have a small team, the luxury of being flexible with when and where we work, and we never aim to have an empty stockroom so we always have a flow of watches in and out. Our production schedule is planned with potential disruptions and delays in mind, because of our stringent quality control processes. Our watches are non-perishable, obviously, so a couple of weeks delay here and there don’t make much of a difference to us. We need the company to move in a fluid way and it always has; and as such, we are able to bend with the pressures of the pandemic and Brexit. We are acutely aware of how fortunate that makes us.
Our long-awaited Pacific range was due to arrive with us in September. Instead, it has been delayed due to an issue sourcing materials required for the dials, and we now enter what could be an unnerving time, if we let ourselves think of it that way, where we await our 'sentencing’ - will we have the Pacifics in time for Christmas, or not.
Christmas is the most important time of year in retail; if we don’t have the stock, and the showstopper watch which we have worked so hard on, it would be reasonable to assume that we might be ending the year in a rather sombre mood. But we can choose not to think that way; not to allow circumstances entirely out of our control to affect how we regard the festive period. Yes, we need to sell watches to survive as a business. No, nothing too dire is going to happen if we sell watches a month later than we planned to. We want to deliver what the people want, but we also know that our community understands; because our community has witnessed and lived through the same pandemic that we, and the rest of the world, have. We will let you all know of the Pacific’s arrival and availability to buy, plus shipping dates, as soon as we know; and we are working on something special as a place-holder should you wish to gift a special someone a Pacific this year (the special someone can be yourself, too. It’s been a tough year.) We know we are far from ‘essential workers’; we aren’t keeping anyone alive by doing what we do, but we do bring joy to those who find it in our watches, and we are honoured by that, now more than ever, when things can seem overwhelmingly dark and difficult.
Covid hasn’t gone away, and it won’t, for a very long time; if at all. We are slowly learning to live with it; trying our very hardest to work as quickly and efficiently as we used to, to keep ourselves and our families safe, to find new ways to have fun and adventure when the world isn’t quite as open as it used to be. Our health service has been and will be fighting an impossible war for some time, many people have lost their lives, and many more will. We know how fortunate we are, as individuals and as a business, and so we are choosing to focus on what truly matters this Christmas; spending time with loved ones, and looking forward, because being here to look forward to better times is a privilege in itself.
We are, of course, already seeing news articles warning that supermarket shelves could be empty at Christmas; that toys, and turkeys, and toilet rolls will be unobtainable and that everyone should buy what they need immediately. Of course, this leads to nothing but panic buying, and the chances are that if everyone ‘keeps the heid’ as Gordon is always reminding us to do, and remains calm, things will be fine. We will be able to have our Christmas dinner, we will be able to give gifts - and, above all, we will be able to see each other. All of that will be all the sweeter when we put into practise the gratitude that 2020 granted us.
But it’s still not OK to listen to Michael Buble in October.