We talked to Joel Chudleigh of Made to Last about improving sustainability through the sale of great British products that stand the test of time and here is what he said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Joel Chudleigh: Fortunately everyone is well and nobody in my immediate family has been infected. Very much hoping that we all get through to the summer with that still being true. We are all missing seeing each other and have learned how important face to face contact is for humans.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Made to Last.
Joel Chudleigh: My background is in marketing and since perhaps 2004 in digital marketing so I was very lucky to be learning about the internet and internet marketing from its early inception.
I initially worked for charities and non-profits doing their direct and digital marketing and then moved onto retail companies in London once my son was born and struggled to pay the rent on the salary from the charity.
In 2010 I then set up my own digital marketing consultancy which then grew into a small agency. We focused on helping retailers to grow their businesses by using online channels.
My business partner and I started to get interested in running our own retail company and specifically pairing our retail marketing skills with an interest in the environment and sustainability.
How does Made to Last innovate?
Joel Chudleigh: Made to Last has a focus on long term value for money. We make and sell high-quality products that stand the test of time.
The idea behind the business is that for many years consumers have been duped by the allure of low prices and that this was causing a steady decline in product quality as retailers tried to win on low prices.
Through personal experience, we could see that low-cost products were poor value for money in the long term as they need to be replaced more frequently than products of better quality.
Additionally, the environmental impact of short term product use is massive – the planet has finite resources so through making and selling better quality products we offer people lower cost (in the long term) products and also make the planet more sustainable as fewer resources are needed when people do not need to replace products so frequently.
We communicate this value to our customers by giving them a guarantee on the products that we sell so that they can be assured that their product will last well.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business and how are you coping?
Joel Chudleigh: We have been very fortunate in that we sell our products online so sales have been very strong as purchasing habits have moved online this year.
However – manufacturing has been difficult – raw materials have been in shorter supply, at higher costs and on delayed deliveries so this has meant that we have had delays in the time frame that we can make and deliver to our customers.
Also – during the lockdowns we have often been unable to deliver large furniture items into peoples houses so that we comply with social distancing guidelines – this has also been tricky and not ideal for many of our customers.
Thankfully though we now seem to be learning to live with the virus and understand better how to make deliveries safe.
Did you have to make difficult choices and what are the lessons learned?
Joel Chudleigh: Yes, there have been many tricky surprises that have occurred this year and navigating them has meant that we needed to learn to be more flexible internally and with our partners.
Letting down customers is always the hardest thing – we always want to deliver above and beyond what we promise, for example in delivery time frames of hand-made products, so to find that we could often not do this and had to let down customers was hard.
Thankfully most people have been very understanding about delays – as long as we have given them choices around refunds or waiting for their order, as well as ensuring that they are frequently updated on the progress of their order.
This whole process has taught us to better deal with unexpected problems – it has made us more robust as a business which gives me confidence going forward. We always need a plan B in place.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Joel Chudleigh: Generally not so well – It is something that I am working on and have definitely improved on this year. My business partner is very patient and understanding whereas I am more of a worrier and like to have everything clear and well organized at all times.
If things become chaotic then I get stressed but the pandemic has helped me get more used to the unexpected and learn how to deal with whatever happens as positively as possible.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Joel Chudleigh: All home and garden retailers could be considered competitors. My biggest concern is Amazon and what they are doing to retail. Because they largely avoid paying taxes they have an unfair advantage over smaller and more ethical retailers like us.
I feel though that through focusing on great quality products, great customer service and focusing on our mission to make consumption more sustainable we have a timeless offering that will evolve but will continually appeal to people.
Your final thoughts?
Joel Chudleigh: It has been a strange year for us as we have gone from strength to strength at the same time as there has been widespread suffering and pain in the world.
I do hope that we learn and reflect on how we are living as a result of this year and do not simply return to business as usual once the vaccine is widely available.
A lack of contact with friends and family has been very tough too and shown me the importance of the relationships I have. I plan to put more time into the relationships that matter going forward.