I cannot quite believe it’s been a year since I last posted this blog; the trip I was about to embark on did not go according to plan!!!!!!
After a 6.30am departure to Gatwick airport and what should have been an uneventful journey to Delhi……if only I’d known! The fog was thickening as we made slow progress round the M25, and eventually the traffic almost ground to a halt, leaving me slightly panicked that I might actually miss the first flight of our trip. Finally, having taken an inordinate amount of time to complete a 40 minute journey, we pull into the Emirates check in zone just 90 minutes before take off. Check in goes without a hitch and I battle my way through the overcrowded security channel, making it to the lounge just in time to meet one of our designers before boarding.
Once on board, having been offered a hot towel and a drink, I settle in with my feet up and a good book! For those of you who are unfamiliar with my blog posts, I love to fly; it is the only time in my crazy, busy life that I get to sit on my backside for several hours straight, with a movie (or several!), a book/magazine, or some music, and am only interrupted by someone offering me food, wine or a chair sized mattress…..what’s not to like?
An hour and a half later, we haven’t moved an inch and the steward is telling me not to concern myself about the connecting flight in Dubai, which we now have absolutely no chance of catching! There is nothing to do but sit back and enjoy the experience, we’ll worry about what happens next when we get there. On arrival at around 10.30pm we are met by a very helpful steward, who explains that we have been booked onto a Jet Airways flight to Delhi…..tomorrow afternoon at 3pm!!!!!!!! And our luggage has been checked straight through so there is no possibility of having it back at this point! What a disaster! The only available earlier flight is at 4am, with a 3hr layover in Mumbai, arriving only a couple of hours earlier than the direct flight. We will have lost a whole day in Delhi whichever we take, so we opt for the later, direct departure, and are whisked off in an Emirates chauffeur driven car to a hotel for the night, and not just any hotel, this is the tallest hotel in the world, all 72 floors and 1600 rooms of it……I can now honestly say that I have, been there, done that, and yes, I did buy the t-shirt!
I cannot fault the Emirates hospitality, they really looked after us! We decide that the best option in this situation is to get a decent nights sleep, and work our way around the most extravagant breakfast buffet that, in all my years of travelling, I have ever seen! There is English, Chinese, Japanese, Indian and all manner of fruit, pancakes, pastries and artisan breads on offer, and I only wish I had a big enough appetite to try it all! Disappointingly, we cannot get up to the viewing platform at the top of the hotel until after 5pm, so we head back to the airport with plenty of time to spare. Having not seen our luggage since checking in at Gatwick, I am in yesterday’s crumpled, well travelled clothing, I have no make up, and have used every available kit, lotion and potion in the hotel bathroom. Anyone who sees me today will have to accept me au naturel!
Whilst we slept in Dubai, our colleagues on the later flight, have passed us by without mishap, and arrive many hours before us. However, having boarded the plane, I am still not convinced that our bags will have negotiated their way to our next flight. Too many hours have passed, giving them plenty of time to get lost in one of the largest airports in the world! I am avidly watching the ground staff load the luggage into the hold beneath us. Truck after truck of suitcases appears, and one by one the bags make their up the conveyor belt, but I have seen nothing that looks remotely like mine! Just when I am about to give up, one final little trolley rolls up with half a dozen bags on it, and I can barely contain my excitement when I spot ours among them……I will have clean clothing and my own toiletries when we get there!
32 hrs after leaving home, we finally reach a dark and steamy Delhi, arriving dishevelled into the calm, jasmine fragranced interior of the Trident hotel, looking and feeling somewhat like evicted “I’m a celebrity” contestants, rotten in yesterday’s rancid clothing. A light dinner, a quick catch up with our colleagues and it’s time for bed again…..I feel as if I have wasted two whole days of my life in limbo, and my body has no idea which time zone I am in or what time of day it really is!”
And that was just the beginning; there followed a quick succession of appointments, a late night crazy buggy ride through a Delhi golf club to dinner; too many late nights, 5am starts, too little sleep, an aborted landing in Chennai (after flying over the 90,000 seat cricket stadium and the beach a few times, we made it onto the ground at the third attempt!), and a bizarre experience with some Monsoon paperwork which has somehow ended up in my luggage (concierge left it in the wrong room, and they send someone to the Leela Hotel to collect it…. “do you have the package Ms Redman?…..very James Bond!). We head straight out to a supplier and a very long day, developing samples and negotiating prices, in the middle of which all the men in the room quietly disappear for Friday prayers leaving us wondering where everyone has gone. I finally have the luxury of a lone swim in the hotel rooftop pool at sunset, and this is the sort of moment that makes it all worthwhile and reminds me, despite the exhaustion, why I love this job! It is stunningly beautiful! The following day, another round of supplier visits and a late night dinner, before I am back at the airport for a 2am flight!
Moving on to Hong Kong, the relentless pace continued with several days of appointments, and supplier dinners, and finally a brief stop off in Dubai/Abu Dhabi to meet our franchise partners and visit some of our middle eastern stores.
So a year has gone by and a great deal has changed, which will make an immense difference to the trip we are now about to embark on. We have won awards, launched new ranges, and developed a celebrity collaboration, but it will be Brexit that has had the greatest impact. The volatitlity of the exchange rate and subsequently oil prices, along with rising labour prices in India, and the increasing price of cotton, will all conspire to make negotiations very difficult this time around. We are lucky; we have a very loyal core of suppliers who will support us wherever they can, but at the end of the day, we are all in this together, and it only works if we can all make a profit…..
The retail landscape is changing on a daily basis and to remain competitive we are going to have to make some very tough choices about what business we place and with whom, to ensure that we maintain the sales and profit growth we need. A number of clothing retailers have already indicated that retail selling prices will have to increase to compensate for the rise in costs; it is like an elaborate, grown up game of “chicken”…..just who is going to make the leap first, and do we hold firm, relying on selling more volume at a lower margin to make up the difference, or increase selling prices to maintain margin, and accept the fact that customers might react against this and buy less? Both strategies come with significant risks attached, only time will tell how it will work out, and in the meantime, we will continue to try and second guess the impact of the yo-yo, will we – won’t we Brexit???