Shop Local: Coronavirus uncertainty wreaking havoc with Upminster wedding tailor
PUBLISHED: 07:00 30 October 2020
Ken Mears Photography
“The difficult part with this is that there is no business plan, no change of the model, that can adapt to the situation we’re in.”
These are the words of Marc Bunney, who sums up the dilemma facing Upminster retailer Jack Bunney’s. When weddings make up 90 per cent of your business, how do you manage a pandemic that all but wipes them off the calendar?
As part of the Recorder’s Shop Local campaign, the tailor — also front of house — offered an insight into the specific challenges facing this family business, which are among the sternest in its 60-year history.
Though now predominantly a wedding tailor, Jack Bunney’s identity has evolved over the years.
Marc says: “Jack started the business in 1958, and my dad Terry — who grew up in Bow — was his ‘cutter’ in the 80s. My father-in-law Peter was my dad’s business partner at that time, and they bought the business from Jack when he retired.
“Throughout the 80s we became really well known in the East End community — a lot of our customers were East End wide boys!”
Marc’s increased involvement — signalling the gradual move toward weddings — came around 1999, when an intended two-day shift turned into forever, with Marc leaving his city job after dad Terry was diagnosed with diabetes.
Terry’s departure from the business was followed closely by that of the East End trade.
“Clients stopped coming as they missed the East End banter, so we — me and Rob, Peter’s son — had to do something else.”
A visit to a Harrogate trade show around 2004 proved the creative spark that would signal the shift toward the Jack Bunneys the public sees today. Marc and Rob left Yorkshire believing they could manufacture wedding suits superior to those on the market.
After some furious tailoring, they posted their creations online. Within the space of one weekend wedding show, business was booming.
“Although we first had a website in 1999, the decision to manufacture our own stuff coincided with the internet boom.”
And the rest is history. Two dozen weddings a week has been standard for years — until 2020.
The financial loss, as Marc explained, is only one part of the story. “Managing it financially has not been the end of the world, we were quite proactive. As soon as the lockdown started in March, we reduced our wages to half of what they normally would be, and we cut down our costs considerably.
“We’ve had the furlough scheme, which has been good. We had the local government grants, and we got a coronavirus interruption business loan.”
Without dismissing the importance of the financial hit, Marc shed light on a separate problem — motivation.
“When you have a business that you’ve built up over 60 years like us, with the last 20 years pretty much focused on weddings, to then take away the weddings and say ‘no, you can’t do that’, normally you would have a plan in place.”
After a complete lull during the strictest lockdown, business has started to return in dribs and drabs. Last weekend they had three small weddings, which Marc ventures is “probably the busiest weekend we’ve had since July”.
It’s tricky, he said, to maintain momentum when work is more sporadic, but ultimately “you still have to perform to your best capability for those small number of clients that you’re dealing with”.
The ever-changing rules is a definite source of frustration: “When we came back in June, the wedding industry started to move along. We could have 30 people at a wedding, and people were coming to terms with that, reluctantly.
“But when it changed to 15, that literally made most of our clients change their minds.”
Making the comparison between the unlimited numbers allowed in a coffee shop (with adequate social distancing), Marc believes a “specifically and unfairly” impacted wedding industry could’ve been treated better.
A concerted effort to work with clients has ensured that not all have been lost.
When asked how 2021 looks, a chipper Marc replies “amazingly!”, before quickly adding “if they happen”.
The uncertainty of coronavirus is wreaking havoc. “If every single wedding in the books decided to cancel, then the business is in a very different position. You now have no future.”
For more information, visit jackbunneys.co.uk/
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