Retail veteran Chris Dobbs says the Covid-19 pandemic has been the hardest thing he has had to deal with in his business' 34-year history.
Harder than disruption caused by the Christchurch earthquakes, harder than the Global Financial Crisis.
But Working Style, the made-to-measure retailer with six stores across the country, is looking forward to sunnier days.
Warmer weather typically lifts the mood of the consumer and gets people out and about and spending. Dobbs says it is still harder to make a sale today compared to this time last year but he is confident summer will bring better trade.
Founded in 1987, Working Style last week opened its new Christchurch retail store and will tomorrow launch its made-to-measure women's wear line W by Working Style in its Parnell and Christchurch outlets.
Managing director Dobbs says dealing with the Canterbury earthquakes in 2011 was previously his biggest business challenge. The past six months had trumped that.
In August last year the retailer dissolved its Auckland head office and moved to a work from home and stores operating model.
Dobbs says this was the best thing it could have done as it meant disruption through the lockdown in April and regional lockdown in Auckland in August was minimised as the team was well-versed and set up for remote working, and it had already upgraded its software and security and was using Microsoft Teams.
"It was good luck more than good management," Dobbs told the Herald, adding that having no debt had also worked in the retail business' favour.
The lockdowns had proven very challenging and were a huge cause of financial stress, but he says the business was overall faring well. "We're not tripping over cash, but we don't have that bank pressure which is fantastic.
"We're all in a big scrap, there's no question of that, but we haven't had the freak out that a lot of people are having."
Working Style has powered on with the plans it had in place before the onset of Covid-19. It has just hired two new staff for its Christchurch store and is looking to hire another two to add to its team of 36 people.
Its new line, W by Working Style, developed and spearheaded by longtime employee Sharon Orquejo, has been a work in progress for over a year. It plans to role out its W by Working Style offering to all of its stores before Christmas.
"We've got a powerful bunch of women that work in our business and we've really tried to make sure that they have made all of the decisions and led the whole thing," says Dobbs.
"For 34 years we've shown pieces of fabric to our male clients and they've looked through some of the greatest fabric mills in the world and been able to choose a beautiful cashmere or silk for a winter jacket or whatever they want, dealing with guys who like nice things but have busy lives, and there's a massive opportunity on the women's side as well.
"Women's wear is a massively big industry and there's lots of people doing different things but on the made-to-measure bespoke end of town there hasn't been a lot of offerings, so we're really excited about it."
Working Style dabbled in women's wear about 15 years ago and at the time when men's wear was strong and demanded complete focus. It decided to revisit clothing for women as men's work wear in recent years has become more casual and it was looking for growth opportunities.
"We're not thinking that we're automatically going to become a men's and women's brand overnight."
The majority of its garments are made in Portugal and Europe, which has meant its supply chain has faced air freight delays over the past six months, though Dobbs says most issues have now been resolved.
Like most retailers, Working Style has experienced a surge in online orders - and its e-commerce business has "quadrupled". During lockdown it was processing around 180 orders each week.
Online orders now account for almost 20 per cent of sales for the tailor by trade.
Dobbs says he does not see online as a threat to the bricks and mortar stores.
"Historically I have viewed it as a threat at times because it has been a challenge but now we use it as a litmus test for how we are trading as a retailer because if you're not selling online and getting online inquiry, you're not going to do it on the floor."
Discretionary retail was still a tough place to be operating in, but Dobbs says he believes the sector is through the worst of the impact from Covid and could see pockets of opportunity and light at the end of the tunnel.