We are all living through unprecedented times so, at first, I didn’t think I should share what this all meant for us here at Bertelles.
However, over the last few weeks, a lot of you have started to ask questions - your thoughts and worries for Bertelles and the team have really touched me personally, so I have decided to share what impact this crisis has had on our brand, on us as a team and on the future of Bertelles.
Like most companies, before mid-March, we had completely underestimated the impact Covid-19 would have on Bertelles. We understood swiftly, though, when everything came to a halt in the second part of March. We recorded the grand total of 6 orders during this period - a record low level that we hadn’t seen since the early days of the brand. That is not too surprising though as about 85% of our sales are with partner stores, mostly in Europe but also a couple further afield including in China and Japan, so all of them went silent trying to deal with their own challenges.
In April, our partner stores were mostly still closed of course but we started to see more orders coming in through the website. Most of these orders were local and I took the habit of going into the office a couple of times each week to prepare the packages - always around 6 am to make sure I didn’t have to worry about bumping into anyone on the way. At the end of April, we had the first order from outside Europe in a while - it was for the US - and I faced something I didn’t expect: the postal service had stopped all their services outside Europe. I had to swiftly find another courier that could deliver the parcel at a reasonable price for just one pair of braces. The challenge was that all parcel services had increased their prices during the crisis, making our margins a bit tight.
In May, in addition to orders from Belgium, we started to see clients from our neighbouring countries again - France, Germany and the Netherlands - as well as a few orders from more distant destinations. Since mid-May, we are seeing more and more partner stores ordering restocks as they reopen. They are very cautious with the volumes, and the average order is well below the norm, but our Bertelles seem to be a good seller again so we are hopeful for the coming weeks. However, over the period from mid-March to mid-June, which is usually one of the busiest of our year, we have probably sold for between 5 and 7% of what we would have sold in normal times. This has lead us to other challenges, notably with the team and organisation of work without the natural workflow and working remotely.
In Belgium, employers were allowed to put staff in temporary unemployment during the lockdown and, as we were barely selling anything, that would probably have made sense economically. But we discussed it with the team and I must say I’m extremely lucky to have Pauline and Pauliina: at no time did we see personal interests taking the fore, we were all focused on preserving the brand and preparing the future the best we could. We quickly agreed that the team would work half time and therefore be temporarily unemployed half time as well.
They never said anything, but I suspect they sometimes worked more than the half time we agreed, all in the interest of Bertelles - and for this I am truly grateful to them. We also had Valentine joining us, an intern we had recruited after a couple of Skype interviews, and she has been doing a great job in these troubled times from her home (somewhere 30 minutes outside Paris).
And so, as we were not busy selling, we have put all our energy, passion and ideas into preparing the future of Bertelles. And there will be big news coming in the weeks, months and even years ahead - but don’t worry, the fundamentals of the brand will stay the same: we are braces specialists, focusing on savoir-faire, craftsmanship, heritage and modernity. For the rest, we have challenged it all during this lockdown period: collections, communication, digital approach and even the wholesale strategy - and this blog is probably one of the first visible signs of this evolution, as well as our newsletter (subscribe here
So, as I am now working on progressively reopening our office in the coming weeks, I wanted to give you all this short update, hoping that the worst is behind us and confident that we are much stronger as a brand and as a team than we were before this crisis.
To conclude, let me pass on a swift personal message: thank you so much Pauline and Pauliina, for everything you’ve done for Bertelles.
Founder of Bertelles