It has been a while since I last wrote to update you on where we are as a business and as our financial year finished at the end of January and we now have an idea from the Government on when we are likely to be able to re-open the stores I want to share with you where I see we are.
There is no point in beating around the bush as last year was awful and without the sales generated from the internet and the Government support package we would have struggled to survive. There are some positives though as we have successfully managed through the pandemic and I am personally very proud of the commitment, professionalism and enthusiasm of those of you who have been able to work and help maintain some level of sales via the online channels and in stores when permitted. The company auditors, KPMG, signed the business off as a going concern in November which basically means they see us as being in a good position to move forward. This is a great achievement in the current climate as many retailers are not in the same position unfortunately.
The control and management of the stock in the main has been good with some issues to deal with on ladies summer and winter seasonal products but men’s stock is okay and children’s very good. The highlights have been back to school where we finished 4% up on last year during the key August and September weeks. Slipper sales have been very strong on ladies and men’s, Wellington sales have surprised us and the small offer of walking shoes and boots have sold well. The online business finished 30% up despite some issues with one of our key channels and our own site performed exceptionally well. Alongside this we have controlled costs pretty well and while we have had to make some redundancies and changes that were not easy I hope we can move forward positively once the stores re-open. A number of our Landlords have also been very supportive giving us rent reductions during lockdown periods and this has been very helpful.
The focus now is on the future and recovering from what has definitely been the most challenging period in my time with the Company. We have had to change how we are working with people working from home, Teams and Zoom calls and social distancing measures. This will not remain for us and with the roll out of the vaccine we will return to a more normal working situation again soon. The support from most suppliers has been excellent and they continue to comment on how well we are doing compared to other footwear retailers. The buying and merchandise teams have worked hard to rationalise ranges and increase the spend on products that have sold well. The new system project has started and the contract signed with a completion date anticipated in June 2022. The branch operations team are preparing for the stores re-opening on Monday 12th April and we just keep our fingers crossed this actually happens.
The Furlough scheme has been used sensibly and I would like to thank you for supporting this as again this has been a significant help in managing through the crisis. HR have worked hard to ensure the payments are accurate but where there has been the odd discrepancy due to the complexity of the calculation you have been very understanding. Everyone’s wellbeing has been a key concern and I know for some people it has been really challenging. I want to say how impressed I have been with the support many of you have shown for each other and that if we can do anything to help HR, myself and any of the management team are always available. It is important to talk and support each other as it can make a big difference. One of the operations team shared with me that he had been to a store last week and met the manager who commented how nice it was to be out, seeing a different environment and in reach of getting back to some normality. It has been incredibly tough for everyone and while I appreciate for some it has been worse than others I hope for all of us things start to improve.
While last year was really difficult the business is in a solid financial position and as long as trade returns to something near normal we are positive about the recovery and our future. Nothing is guaranteed unfortunately and we are going to have to work harder than ever to win sales. What is for sure is that if we have some great product and give our customers excellent service we have two of the foundations this business was built on to ensure we give ourselves the best opportunity to rebuild sales. The growth of online sales will continue but you can’t beat that personal instore service experience and the better we make that the more stores we will retain. It is in our hands to deliver the best customer experience across all channels and if we don’t then the future will be all the more difficult!
Can I thank you all again for your dedication and commitment in doing your work during this challenging time. While the Clinkard business has been severely impacted by the restrictions the virus has caused the sensible approach the majority of you have taken has enabled us to get through successfully so far. There is no doubt this willing attitude has made a real difference which is much appreciated and those of you who have been in the office will have experienced the positive morale despite the difficulties and a number of you have commented on this and expressed how much it has helped you on a personal level.
I think that gives you a brief appraisal of where we are but I am more than happy to respond to any specific other questions you may have and you can come back directly to me or via HR.
Lastly I hope you all stay safe and well and look forward to getting re-opened and out to see some of you in the stores fairly soon.
With very best wishes,
1st December 2020
The Clinkard Group has been run and managed by three generations of the family for over 95 years but with a growing number of key external appointments to strengthen the team we are delighted to announce the promotion of Tim Payne to Managing Director of the retail business.
Tim has been with the Company for over twelve years joining as Merchandise Manager originally, progressing to Merchandise Director with the additional responsibility of the warehouse function and more recently Trading Director extending his role further to encompass the online business and IT function. Tim has a wealth of retail experience from his previous roles with Debenhams, Disney store and Cotton Traders. His merchandise skills have helped the business control and manage stock performance much more effectively and his ability to plan and organise areas of the business has delivered better performance management. His contribution has been greatly valued and in planning for the future it is important that we recognise Tim’s ability to grow and develop the business further. Charles Clinkard will continue as group Managing Director and sees Tim’s role change as a key element of the succession planning for the business going forward. Businesses can leave these changes too late and giving Tim this opportunity to contribute at the next level gives us the ability to support him in this new role. The business like many has found trading during the current year very challenging but continues to be optimistic about the future with the excellent support it has had from most business partners and suppliers.
The business is also pleased to announce the signing of a long-term agreement with Sanderson for the use of their multi-channel retail, distribution and logistics software and managed services. This is a significant milestone within a wider and ongoing technology review led by the company's Technology Director, Graeme Boulton. This project will allow the retail business to move forward significantly embracing the latest cloud technology to ensure we continue to provide the highest level of service and security to our customers.
2nd November 2020
Unfortunately this second Lockdown has been predicted for some time and while everyone has a view on should we or should we not have to go in to Lockdown we are just going to have to accept the Governments decision and get on and try and manage through the situation again. We are confident we can trade successfully online until the Government confirms when the restrictions will be lifted.
I think most of us and our families coped fairly well during the first lockdown and our thoughts and sympathies do go out to those who has lost anyone close or who they know. We are also thinking of those of you who are finding the pressures of the impact of Coronavirus difficult to live with. It is a very strange virus and our priority is to keep everyone safe and well while trying to maintain a level of business to ensure the company survives.
The business has performed reasonably well since we came out of the previous Lockdown but this has been mainly driven by the excellent performance of the Website. At store level the performances have been very mixed with some of our smaller local high street stores trading really well and then the shopping centre locations at the other end of the scale are all really struggling. We have had some great support from the Government via the furlough scheme, some small grants, business rates suspended till April next year and we have taken out an interest-free business support loan. We have also had some great support from some of our independent landlords with rent free periods and from our suppliers with extended payment terms and extra discounts. Lastly the bank have been supportive and we have extended facilities agreed and so far we have delivered on the agreed terms. All this has helped but the situation is still incredibly difficult and while I am not going to dwell on them we have had some negatives to deal with as well. I still remain optimistic that we can trade successfully through this but it will be more difficult because of this second Lockdown.
From effectively Wednesday after close of business all our retail stores with the exception of Kirkcaldy will remain closed until at least Thursday 3rd December. All staff will receive communication again via HR informing them of the terms of the furlough scheme and this will be at the 80% level of pay as previously. I am sorry that we are not in a position to be able to top this up but with stores closed the Company will be under huge pressure to manage stocks and cash flow. Itis critical that we manage these two key areas successfully to make space for the new season stock and so that we can pay wages and bills going forward.
We have already had to make some difficult decisions reducing staffing levels and closing some stores. These measures are what we feel we need to do for now and it is sincerely hoped that as and when business starts to recover we can positively review the position. Can I thank all of you for your support and understanding of the situation and I really hope that this further Lockdown helps to reduce the spread of the virus allowing for restrictions to be lifted in time for Christmas.
While these are unprecedented circumstances in most of our life times there have been world wars, plagues and other disasters previously which have had a huge impact on people’s lives and in time things have recovered and normal life has resumed. We are all in this together and it is important to focus on the positives and to try and support and help each other as much as we can. Please look after yourselves, your families and colleagues and let’s hope a vaccine is developed soon and we can start to see the situation improve and return to something more normal.
With best wishes,
28th July 2020
We have now been open for six weeks after the lock down period officially ended and the results have been very mixed across the stores but overall okay.
The situation we find ourselves in is better than a lot of retailers, but it is still very challenging and we are having to make some difficult decisions in order for the business to survive and recover. One of the most critical and largest cost areas are the rents payable and getting the landlords to give us some support for the period we have been closed is not proving easy. In one or two cases the landlords have been very supportive but unfortunately other landlords are demanding we pay the full rent despite being closed for 14/15 weeks with no turnover.
During the period we have been closed several shop leases have either had a break clause or the lease has come to an end. We have tried in all cases to agree new terms with the landlords but I am afraid in three cases so far we have not been able to agree new terms and as a result Glasgow store closed in June, Guildford will close during September and the children’s only store will close at Wetherby also during September. On a more positive note we have agreed new leases at Keswick, Northallerton and the Wetherby main store is in the final stages of negotiation.
Things are incredibly difficult at the moment and we are having to make some decisions that under normal circumstances would just not have happened but if we do not take these actions, we will struggle to survive ourselves. Can I thank everyone for their understanding and support and while I can’t guarantee anything I assure you we are working hard to try and retain all stores where the landlords are offering us a fair deal and reduced rent going forward.
For the those stores that we have closed and are closing thank you to the teams for all your hard work and loyalty to the company. We sincerely wish you all the best for the future and hope you and your families all remain well.
10th June 2020
I am hoping everything remains well with you and your families.
After the Government announcement last night, I am delighted to confirm we will re-open all our stores other than Kirkcaldy on Monday 15th June. We have been discussing what the best plan would be and whether to open some or all stores. After careful consideration and hearing what other retailers are planning, we feel it is safe to go ahead and re-open the stores that we are allowed to. Should there be any issues or concerns on opening in any store we can review the situation and address the position quickly.
HR have prepared a pack of additional workwear for each store that includes face visors, gloves, sanitiser, wipes and face masks. These have been ordered but will follow so that they are with you for next week. For your own safety and that of the customers, we ask that you wear the face visor while engaging and serving all customers and that gloves are also worn when measuring children’s feet. The face masks are optional but can be used anytime if you are more comfortable wearing one. We would also ask that you wash your hands regularly with soap and water, make use of the sanitiser provided, and where possible, follow the Government guidelines keeping a 2 metre distance.
The website has continued to perform well and we have re-opened in Jersey, Guernsey and Isle of Man with mixed results but so far everything is going okay. Feedback from other Countries is again mixed but in general, smaller local stores are doing quite well and bigger shopping centre locations are okay but quieter overall. I think therefore it will vary by location and we can react to the situation depending on demand.
Can we thank those of you who have agreed to come back to work, it is much appreciated and those that remain on furlough we hope we will see you fairly soon. We fully support and understand that some of you are not able to return due to being at high risk, have child care issues or other reasons for not being able to come back at this time. Hopefully the situation will continue to improve once we are open and we can then plan for back to school and more of the team to return to work.
The initial plan is for those that are returning to start on Thursday 11th June, with training for the re-opening, preparation of each store, sale labelling and pulling of shoes and then the layout of the shop floor ready for opening the doors on Monday morning. We have discussed our plans with several other retailers and have taken a very similar position to Clarks and Schuh on how we plan to operate. The main concern is providing a safe environment for all of us to work in and for our customers to shop in. Initially we will open for reduced hours, allowing for some private appointments in store and cleaning in preparation for the next day.
There is no doubt that the Coronavirus is going to remain with us and have an impact on our daily lives for some time to come I am afraid. The main focus for us is to get re-opened and look after our customers by offering great service while following the social distancing guidelines and being safe at work. I can tell you we have plenty of stock still to sell and while I know it won’t all be the right stock, hopefully you can use your excellent selling skills to offer alternatives or use the kiosk service if required.
Most people I have spoken to are really looking forward to getting back to work and so I hope for everyone that it all goes to plan on Monday and that trading is successful. Thank you in advance for all the hard work and effort you are going to be putting in to get the stores ready to re-open and fingers crossed everything works out well.
We can’t predict what will happen in the next few weeks and months so we will all need to continue to be resilient. I look forward to getting out in the near future and seeing some of you in the stores, but in the meantime remain positive, healthy and safe.
With best wishes,
29th May 2020
Just a brief update to confirm that following on from the recent Government guidance, stores are set to re-open on 15th June.
All staff will receive an email from HR which will contain a risk assessment, and a copy of the company Coronavirus Health & Safety Policy.
Store staff will also receive a mini induction on your first day back at work to reflect the updated service levels and new health and safety practices which are to be maintained within stores.
If anyone has any questions regarding your return to work, please feel free to contact either myself or your Line Manager and we will be able to assist you further.
14th May 2020
I hope this email finds you and your families still safe and well during this time of uncertainty. We are all having to adjust to how everyday life has changed over recent weeks and I am afraid some of these changes are going to be with us for some time to come, but if we have our health and our families and friends, we are very fortunate.
With the Government announcing its plans to ease the lockdown, I would like to update you with where we are as a business and what we are planning for when we are permitted to re-open the stores. The Internet continues to trade well, and the team are doing a great job ensuring social distancing is maintained while delivering an excellent service to our customers. A large majority of the Head Office team are still furloughed, along with all our store staff.
The Government have now confirmed that subject to the infection and death rates continuing to fall, we may be able to open some stores from Monday 1st June. With this information we have started working on plans for each store and preparing how we can open stores safely for both staff and customers. It is my understanding that stores within shopping centres and department stores will not be able to open until July, but this could change.
Our plans for Head Office are looking like some of the furloughed team will be asked to return on Monday 1st June and the remainder will gradually be phased back to work over a period of time in keeping with Government guidance. This means you can self-isolate should you become unwell and the business will still have cover. Once plans are finalised, department heads will contact their team members accordingly to discuss their return to work. Further communication will then be issued to stores with details of which staff members are available within Head Office week-by-week.
We are closely following Government guidelines, but so far we have ordered face shields for all store staff, sanitising spray for cleaning and washing of both hands and surfaces, protective gloves should a customer ask you to wear them, social distancing signage, and we have also updated our service policies during COVID-19. The new service policies for adults and children’s departments have been amended and will be discussed with staff prior to the store re-opening. We are also considering screens on cash desks and other internal store signage but are awaiting further Government advice on the exact requirements. If anyone has any concerns on the above, please speak to your line manager or HR and they will be happy to consider your views.
In terms of you returning to work, we are planning this to be a phased process, and we will be asking for volunteers initially. If we do not get enough people, we will have a set criteria where we will request you to return. If you are high risk, have children to take care of due to school closures or another valid reason that does not permit you to return, you will remain as a furloughed employee. The Government furlough scheme has been extended until October, but please note the scheme is to be amended from August and further details on the changes are to be announced later this week.
ePay emails for this month have gone out this week and your pay will be in your account on Wednesday 20th May.
The Clinkard Community continues to be strong, and despite the challenges everyone is facing I am encouraged by your positive spirits. There are bound to be more changes to come as things start to return to a new normal within work and other areas of our everyday lives, so please continue to support each other as we are all in this together.
I hope people continue to remain sensible and obey the restriction guidelines so that we can re-open in June and please make sure you continue to play your part as this will help ensure all our futures and the success of the business.
For now, keep positive and I hope you all remain safe and well until we are able to return to work.
With my best wishes,
17th April 2020
I hope you are keeping well.
The events of the last month have presented a whirlwind of change, challenge and disruption for virtually everyone, and following the Government’s decision last night to extend the lockdown for at least a further three weeks, I wanted to update you on where we stand as a company.
I’d like firstly to say thank you to everyone for accepting the furlough agreement without issue, and for your understanding during these unprecedented times. Unfortunately, in light of the recent extension to the lockdown period, it will be necessary for the furlough period to continue for a further three weeks. You will receive your 80% April payment on Monday 20th April 2020.
I’d also like to extend my thanks to those few employees who are continuing to work and keep essential areas of the business functioning. It is encouraging to be able to report that through various promotions that we’re running, the website is trading reasonably. Whilst turnover is at a lower level than normal, overall sales are ahead of our forecasts.
I’m sure some of you may be struggling with the impact of the changes caused by COVID-19 and I have to say that whilst I am still working, it is very different adapting to working from home, so the sooner we are all able to return the better.
There does seem to be a good community spirit within the Clinkard business, and I have seen some lovely, genuine messages of support on the Facebook page which is very reassuring. I would encourage you to support your colleagues in this way; to message, to chat and call others, even when there’s nothing particular to say. Thinking of others is important and particularly to anyone who may need a boost. We also want to be there to offer support to staff, so please don’t hesitate to contact Julie from HR, Toby, Richard, your Line Manager, and even myself if you would like to. We are all in this together and helping each other through this is very important.
Unfortunately, I think we all have to face up to the fact that this situation is going to continue for several more weeks. From speaking to various sources, I personally believe that the Government put the initial support package in place until the end of May because that is when they thought it was most likely they’d be able to start to relax the lockdown. Even if this is the case, it will still take some time for things to return to normal after this date. We’re fortunate in that we will hopefully see how other countries in Europe who are ahead of us have started to recover. For example, in Austria they have recently started to allow shops less than 4,000 sq ft to re-open.
For now, I hope you all keep well and safe with your families. Try to remain positive, optimistic and resilient as things will come back to normal, however slowly, and I am hopeful we will recover and build the business again once we are allowed to re-open.
With my best wishes,
31st March 2020
I hope this finds you and your family well and you’re keeping safe during the Covid-19 crisis.
The virus is clearly having a much more significant impact on everyone’s daily life than the Government first indicated and as a result it is looking like we will be closed for a longer period than the three weeks the Government initially stated. Unfortunately as a consequence of this we have had to make the difficult decision to register the majority of our employees as furloughed workers.
The length of the furlough period is currently unknown, but as things change we will update you with the latest information. Estimates are varying at the moment but it could be more than eight weeks before we are allowed to return and even then it is likely to be with restrictions.
As stated in the correspondence from Julie Monaghan, all employees who are furloughed will receive 80% of their average pay from the 2019/20 tax year, or the same months earnings from 2019 (excluding bonus and commission). As a result of this, your pay will include any flexi time for March, along with the 80% average pay.
To try and maintain a level of business during these challenging times we are still trading online. The warehouse team are now operating on a skeleton staff basis and are working a safe distance apart from each other and we have upgraded hygiene measures. The rest of our team from the office are either working from home or have been furloughed.
If anyone has any queries or needs further clarification on these temporary changes, please feel free to contact Julie Monaghan, Toby Hewison, Richard Dawson or myself via phone or email.
Can I thank you all for your support and understanding during this unprecedented situation and hopefully during the next few weeks we will see the crisis peak and things starting to improve.
25th March 2020
I hope everyone is well and keeping safe.
I wanted to quickly update everyone on a few key updates within the business, and hopefully provide some reassurance during this uncertain time.
Please take care of yourselves and your families.