An insight into buying during the lockdown – challenges, solutions and anecdotes by Dani Taylor, buying director at Cox & Cox
As a buyer & product developer I have been travelling my whole working life, but in my 8 years at Cox & Cox I have been on a plane at least every month. This year, for the first time ever, I haven’t been on a plane since February. There is nothing like seeing product in real life and feeling the materials, but lockdown has certainly taught me that I don’t need to see every supplier face to face, and that with a good timeline and careful planning you can get an awful lot done by video call. There is no time lost travelling and even better – no jet lag.
As a business, we work with wholesalers from the UK & Europe as well as carefully chosen factories around the world. We are used to doing everything with them in person, but have had to change and adapt because of the travel restrictions. Although many people didn’t like zoom meetings at first, I can’t imagine working without it now. I can be in Vietnam in the morning & Denmark in the afternoon, without ever leaving my home office.
A more collaborative way of working
Throughout the lockdown, we have been working hard on getting a better understanding of how each of our suppliers work, our various teams working with their teams rather than just the typical buyer / sales person relationship. Surprisingly lockdown has let us spend more time with suppliers than before.
We have talked with the teams at our best suppliers about transparent and collaborative growth – which is such a lovely and refreshing way to work. Gone are the days of sales-speak and upselling – they want us to only buy the right thing for our customers, brand and quality expectations, and we too have a strong idea of what we are looking for. Our quality manager meets with the supplier QC teams, and our merchandisers have met with their purchasing departments so that we can really get to grips with stock replenishment and the most effective way to order and hold stock.
Controlling stock levels in these tough times has potentially been the most challenging part of these last six months and our Merchandising team have done an incredible job to keep us going. Working together across all departments is such a great way to work, it reduces confusion & frustration and ultimately leads to process changes for the better in both businesses.
We have been struck, like many businesses I’m sure, by how well the team has pulled together recently. Everyone has shown real grit and determination – the heightened sense of community and teamwork is one real positive to come out of this pandemic.
Flexibility is everything
Of course product flow has been affected by Covid – there have been delays in production, and this has had a knock on to shipping. We have had to be very flexible and look at ways to juggle stock and launch dates. Being online certainly comes with its challenges and getting the photography we needed for the season proved tricky. . We shoot everything ourselves and shooting at the height of the pandemic was impossible, so we have had to adapt how and where we shoot. A lot of planned shoots had to be postponed and our stylist worked non stop for two months to get everything shot once restrictions were lifted. We have had to build a lot of sets in a large studio space rather than use real houses, but in the end it worked perfectly as our
Art Director Danielle was able to build exactly what she wanted and we could also paint the walls with our new Cox & Cox paint – something that is not easily done when on location. The photography studio that we work with has incredible technical skills and they have developed a really flexible approach – without them it wouldn’t have been possible to maintain our high standard of photography during lockdown. The sheer volume of output they created, while keeping such a high quality, during such testing times has been remarkable.
Being brave and pushing boundaries
Our fast growth has put us in a fortunate position where we are willing to take more risks and experiment more with what we might usually buy. We’ve tested new price points within existing categories such as home office, adding in many more accessories and storage solutions, and moved into completely new areas like freestanding kitchen furniture.
With other retailers being shut during the summer we pushed harder into new categories, particularly in outdoor – we went into BBQs, water features and larger garden structures for the first time which all went really well for us. Unfortunately the garden centres were hit hard by the Pandemic, which in turn really gave some segments of consumers no other choice but to explore shopping online. One thing we have experienced in recent months is new customers who ordinarily wouldn’t consider buying online – and we have worked hard to convert them.
We do the hard work for our customers
One of our USPs is photographing everything ourselves and giving context to the products. We offer a carefully curated edit of products – a selection which we think works well together – we do the hard work for our customers and present carefully edited and coordinated trends which show how to decorate a whole room. At Cox & Cox we are not here to show you every possible option – just what we think are the highlights, and we love to suggest how you could put it together from the furniture and the accessories to the paint on the walls. We are now more rigorous than ever in this exercise.
Having time for product development has been fantastic, and whilst we have been able to get to some projects earlier, it has meant that there has been absolutely no downtime whatsoever during lockdown for the product team. Buying, product development, quality control & photography teams have all been flat out working on new season launches, not just for AW20, but SS21 & AW21 – even into SS22 for outdoor furniture.