We spoke to Nicholas for the Courier podcast. Listen above or read the story below.
Q. How did the conversation begin?
‘She immediately said, “You need to look at payroll – that’s the biggest cost. That's the easiest way to cut it.” And, bear in mind, this is at least a week before the furlough announcement from the UK government. Before she'd finished, I said, “No, we're not doing that. We're not cutting staff. I would rather run all of our reserves to zero but with the staff on full pay. I’ll try and fight to do something.”’
Q. How many staff members did you have?
‘I have two and the accountant works freelance. That same day, I started closing the office. I started taking all the watches away, then out of the showroom, locking everything up, making sure everything was secure. And I remember sitting in my office – this was weeks ago but it feels like years ago – and looking around at everything stripped back, and thinking my predecessors must have gone through something similar in 1914 and 1939. Two world wars. The business somehow survived it. And I never thought I would have to do something like this.’
Q. The company has been in your family for generations, and you restarted it quite recently. Wars, famines, pandemics – the company has seen it all.
'Right. When the business was started 174 years ago, it was a very different world. The beginning of the Victorian era. And then it survived the Spanish Flu, world wars and the Great Depression, until it closed in the 1970s. When I restarted it, it was very much a family business. I didn't take on any investment. I still haven't taken on any investment. It's always been about slow growth, which meant that going into this, I owned 100% of the business and could make decisions very quickly on what I wanted to do, such as paying the staff 100%.
But it also meant that, because I had run the company lean and hadn't been frittering away money on living the best entrepreneur life possible, we had some cash in the bank. After having discussed that, [the accountant] said, “What about your own pay?” The first few years I didn't take a salary – I think a lot of founders are similar in doing that. But after a few years, I decided to start taking some money. So, I had an income and I cut that to zero, which immediately bought us several more months.
And then you go through the list of all your suppliers – the office landlord, the storage unit, the phone company, the broadband. I called up and went, “Look, I hate to ask, but what can we do? I don't want to just cancel my direct debits.” I've always been aware that everything is an ecosystem. Me not paying the landlord means the landlord can't employ the reception staff or the maintenance people. Everything has a knock-on effect. So I called everyone up and said, “I don't want to cancel, but I need you to help me out.”
From the beginning, Fears has always had a philosophy – we’ve always paid every invoice on time or early. We've never paid anything late. And we work with the same suppliers we've worked with for four years. That loyalty has been rewarded numerous times in the last few weeks.’