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An Alterations Business Shifted to Making Masks, to Help Recoup Revenue

Without small business, we’re nothing. TheLatch— and GoDaddy have teamed up to rally behind local businesses and entrepreneurs during this unprecedented time of change.

We’re speaking to small businesses and entrepreneurs across the country to better understand how they’re adapting to stay open, how they’re keeping their community safe, and how we can support them now during this time, and beyond. We’re focused on keeping Australia open for business, even if doors are closed. #OpenWeStand

While some businesses have easily been able to shift to being online-only during the coronavirus pandemic, many others have to think outside the box in order to remain operational. 

Finesse Alterations is a family-owned Gold Coast tailoring business, an industry which is built on face-to-face interaction. After social distancing rules came into place with the majority of people staying home as much as possible, they saw their business impacted.

Rather than giving up and waiting for the pandemic to be over, they’ve decided instead to adapt their business, to make high-quality masks that’ll help protect the community. In order to sell the masks, they’ve added a shopping element to their website, easily updated using GoDaddy‘s website builder.

They’re used to seeing customers in their converted garage studio/shop, but have now introduced an online shopping element to their website in order to sell the masks. Co-owner Hugh marvelled at how easy this was to set up, explaining to TheLatch— “The shopping element was there as an option the whole time and now I’m thinking, ‘Wow, why didn’t I use this part of the site before?”.

We spoke with Hugh about their business, how they built a successful company in just one year, and how important it is to be smart and ready to adapt.

TheLatch— Let’s kick off by hearing about your business.

Hugh: The business was started in November of 2018 with my wife who has a background in all sorts of alterations. She’s Russian and she worked in Russian factories for about five years. She was in mass production where she was involved in doing alterations. So really diverse, working with leather and all sorts of fabrics. In conjunction with that, she also then got qualified in dressmaking. She always had, from a little girl, a passion for it. And so that’s what she did.

And so in Australia, she always had this desire to open the business and do boutique type alterations, which she started in Sydney and then moved to the Gold Coast. That kind of fell through. Then, in November of 2018 we decided to set her up again. We converted the single garage at the front of our house, and we tried to create a studio feel. We bought six brand new machines and did it up really nicely. She started off as just herself and then worked it up to herself and three employees.

TL: Wow, that’s great. And in just over a year!

Hugh: Yeah, it really took off. We really focused on people skills. We knew we had the best team and in fact, all of them had 30 years plus experience. Some in dressmaking, some actually do wedding gowns and veils. Lisa has got incredible skills with actually making dresses and making ball gowns, but it’s not what we do now. You can’t compete in this market against the bigger factories that mass produce.

“You can’t compete in this market against the bigger factories that mass produce.”

We focus on high-quality alterations with [an] emphasis on the personal touch. Really being friendly. I think we’ve currently got 118 Google reviews in just over the year, and five stars for every single one. So it’s been really enjoyable to see a really positive response.

TL: Do you think that the way your business really took off at the start was through word of mouth?

Hugh: There was a combination. We’ve spent a lot of time asking our customers where they came from, and so we record that daily. And there was a fast spread. We also worked closely with shopping centres that had specific retailers, particularly suit retailers. Suits are what we focus on.

We had lot of referrals from the different outlets that wanted to use us because of our reputation. But also from Google, which is a particularly powerful source, and then a plain simple board — a signboard — on the side of the business has actually been really, really powerful.

TL: And so, how has your business been affected by coronavirus?

Hugh: A massive impact. 90% downturn, 90% drop in our turnover.

TL: What do you put that down to? Is it because people aren’t shopping for new clothes?

Hugh: It’s a combination of number one, they’re not shopping. A lot of the stores that we were getting our referrals from have just simply closed down because they just can’t operate anymore. And people are too scared to go out, understandably. So they don’t come to the shop. A lot of people think we’re closed, even though we are entitled to be open. We can also see consumers are a being a bit more conservative with their spending, too.

TL: I see from your website that you’ve made a pivot and you’re creating masks. What was the catalyst?

Hugh: I support the admin function of the business. I’m also a police officer and I saw firsthand the requirement for the masks, and how few of them there were. Particularly the ones that actually stop the virus. And we just felt that we could be a resource to help because we had the skills and the ability to make masks, and so that’s what we’ve done.

TL: So are you making the masks for medical professionals? Are they the surgical grade or are you making just the regular masks?

Hugh: No. Just the regular masks and we provide the N95 insert.

TL: And how has the response been to the masks? Is it helping stabilise the business for now?

Hugh: It’s given us a cash flow. We’re selling masks through the website, with the promise of eventually providing the inserts. They’re currently on backorder, we’re waiting for a shipment to arrive from China. 

“We felt that we could be a resource because we had the skills and the ability to make masks.”

TL: I’ve noticed on your website you’ve made an update to include a shopping element. Was that an easy update for you to make?

Hugh: Yeah. That was surprisingly easy actually! The shopping element was there as an option the whole time and now I’m thinking, “Wow, why didn’t I use this part of the site before?” We’ve been GoDaddy customers since we launched the business and I’ve had a number of compliments to the website. I’m not a professional web designer by any means. In fact, I have no skills in terms of website design.

It’s been pleasing to get a really good response from people [about the website]. And I guess that was what was so easy — you didn’t have to have any technical skills to be able to do, what’s turned out to be, a really nice website.

TL: Do you think that the way you operate your business will be changed for good as a result of the coronavirus?

Hugh: I think there will be changes. For example, I think people will be very, very reluctant to pay with cash. We’ve noticed that change. Our business is a contact business. We can’t do it remotely. Yes, we can sell some products like the masks online. What it has done though, it has sort of forced us to think about that type of business, so the online business. Whereas before, it wasn’t something that we were considering at all. Now, we’re starting to think, “Hold on a minute, we might need to do this in the long term, let alone just over the next few months. So what are the products that we can bring to the table?”

But our core business hasn’t changed. It really is a hands-on type [of] thing. I guess the direct comparison would be [a] hairdresser.

It doesn’t matter what you do, you need to sit down and they’re going to cut it [your hair]. And that’s kind of our business model as well, where somebody comes in for alterations and we do it for them, hands on.

TL: Do you think that overall there’ll be a positive that comes out of this for you?

Hugh: I guess the positive is being aware of the changes in a business that can take place. I’ve had a previous business in the GFC crash that really hit a lot of us. You think about it, and you start being a little smarter. The positive out of this, as well as being smarter, is being aware of the things that can happen.

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