INNOVATORS VS COVID 19
My 2020 Roller Coaster Year: Running 2 Businesses in the Middle of the Covid Crisis
We talked to Franck Jehanne of Kalory about its product photo studio and Covid-19 and he had the following to say.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Franck Jehanne: After a difficult month of March and 2 weeks in bed with the virus, things are great now. I felt the impact of the virus on my lungs until September, though, so it could have been better in terms of health, but I am very happy to be back in shape.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Kalory.
Franck Jehanne: I started my career in New York working for Cartier and was transferred to London. I became Sales Director for the brand and then country manager for another luxury brand part of the Richemont group as well. I left my corporate life 10 years ago and started my first business with my partner then: Kalory Photo & Video. This is a photo and video studio, creating visual assets for brands and businesses. We have a large focus on watch, jewelry, cosmetics, and the drink industries, but we also work with clients from the banking industry and many other sectors (furniture, etc.).
Three years ago, we created a second business: a lifestyle brand with the objective to keep our customers warm, dry, and cozy and a tongue in cheek name: Heating & Plumbing London. We run the 2 businesses in parallel.
How does Kalory innovate?
Franck Jehanne: With the studio, we always look at new techniques and ways of doing things differently. This is the only way to keep ahead of the competition.
With the brand, one of our main approaches was similar: be different, hence the name!
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Franck Jehanne: Both businesses had quite a year. The photo studio was very impacted during the first lockdown while the brand exploded online with quite a few interesting wholesale requests, including Selfridges. One of our main collection is British made picnic blankets, and with the focus on outdoor socializing, the timing and positioning aligned perfectly. Since then, the studio has picked up, and with brands focusing on online presence, we have also been extremely busy since August.
Emotionally, it has been a bit of a rollercoaster, and in April, everything felt very uncertain. As an entrepreneur, you feel responsible for your team, and you just can’t let them down, so the spring was a lot of work to try and keep everything afloat. We moved the 2 businesses at home: a shooting table in the second bedroom and stock for the brand in the living room. This was a very intense and special period, definitely unique. Then, the brand picked up very suddenly, which was amazing. We still had to fight for the studio at this stage as the projects were very slow to come around. All our clients are now pushing their online presence, and without great visuals, a website can’t perform well, so things are great now.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Franck Jehanne: We had to furlough the team and then decide if we were investing or putting everything into freeze. We decided to keep most of our communication investment, and I think that was a good decision.
As it picked up very suddenly, the main decision was investing in the stock for the brand. This requested really much higher cashflows than we used to have on that business. The question was: do we grab the opportunity, or do we stay conservative because of the environment’s uncertainty? We went for it, and the sales have been amazing. We thought it would slow down in September and October, but sales are still very strong, and we are now shipping every day to the USA and Australia. We have also invested in new products, especially a winter collection for the home, and it is performing brilliantly.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Franck Jehanne: I work with my partner, who is much more relaxed and bring some peace and some “no business talking moments” in our life. I personally have lost quite a bit of sleep. As I said, it has been a roller coaster emotionally, and I have alternatively been awake at night because I was stressed about the business and that we would need to lay off the team and because I was too excited by the development of the brand.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Franck Jehanne: I don’t like to look at our competitors. The important is to listen to our clients and their needs, especially during these unprecedented times as everyone’s needs are changing very fast.
Your final thoughts?
Franck Jehanne: Every situation brings a set of opportunities. It is important to keep things flexible and listen to your team and your clients during change times. I always try and find ideas and ways of doing things differently by listening to our clients rather than copying the competition. The importance is to focus on being ahead and different. This is also the time when you need to keep on investing in SEO and Google, to ensure that your ranking is maintained, especially in a competitive industry like photography.
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