How I’m trying to reduce the festive mania

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Alex Monroe on more Yule Tide and less Yule Tired.

By Alex Monroe, jewellery designer

This Christmas will be my 24th as a jewellery maker. My Christmas Eve. Next year will be the 25th. My Christmas day. Actually, the exact date I set up in business is elastic, partly because I have a bad memory and also because it isn’t an exact thing, it happened gradually.

When I was a kid growing up in this huge freezing cold house in Suffolk, Christmas was a delight. Everyone came to our house. We were usually about 40 for lunch. Sitting down the long table in the old hall, with my grandad at the head, chewing each mouthful 21 times for good health. We started opening presents on Christmas Eve and didn’t stop ‘til New Year’s Day. A great big pool of time in a mixed up haze of wood smoke, food, games and pressies.

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These days, I find myself thinking “Christmas comes but once a year, and when it comes be full of fear”.
I’d like to say “…and drink lots of beer”, but generally there’s no time for that!

Last year Christmas pretty much started in November. The phone started ringing more often, and the atmosphere in the workshop rose by slight increments. By mid December the phone didn’t stop ringing. Literally. If you plonked it back in its saddle it would just start singing again. It was non-stop for three weeks and to get five minutes’ peace we would leave it off the hook!

Customers were panicking. We were panicking.

Retailers sold out of stock and were being bombarded with requests from desperate customers. They would call us begging for new stock. Emma, my sales manager had warned everyone in good time about our long lead times, urging clients to pre-stock, but I guess the uncertain economy prevented buyers from taking a risk. Anyway, everyone ran out of stock, customers started by haranguing our stockists, then they started calling us direct.

Generally, it was the blokes who were most desperate. Their other halves had dutifully torn a page from Vogue and stuck it on the fridge. She’d hinted, she’d directed, but he’d left it to the last minute.
We got the impression that marriages depended on this. It was a Bee for Christmas or God help you!

We did our best. With every web order we had Susie L working like a Trojan to make the pieces and Suzy A waiting in the wings to pack and ship them.

You know what happens when you disturb an ant’s nest? It was a bit like that here. Everyone worked so hard, taking angst from panicked retailers and customers alike. Businesses depended on us, relationships were hanging by a thread. We worked from 8 ‘til late, Saturdays and Sundays too, non-stop, and right up to Christmas Day. And the team here did so much beyond the call of duty – we even postponed our Christmas party and worked late instead!

By 6pm on Christmas Eve I for one, was exhausted, and Christmas day ended up being a day just feeling shell-shocked. But we never seem to have quite enough time to recover, as all of our big Japanese wholesale orders go out early in January. These orders are huge. Just physically packing them takes several people several days. January is a busy month; the Japanese orders, then new collections for London and Paris, the Berlin shows, samples for overseas agents, the list goes on.

So this year my 24th Christmas. We’re doing things differently. We started Christmas in June. Emma has done a fantastic job encouraging stockists to plan ahead. We now run a Stock List, emergency aid for beleaguered stockists who need stock in a rush. If customers can’t find what they need in their nearest store, we have a new system of production for online orders, so husbands, keep calm, you’re safe!

And so we’re having fun. Just wait to see what we’ve planned on the website this year. Launching on the 1st December – it’s going to be great!

We also have umpteen new staff and have rented an additional unit, just for postage and packing. April, our workshop manager is already on the case with the Japanese order.

Despite all of this, I’m not sure I’ll ever really enjoy the run up to Christmas, but this year I’m confident we can keep everyone happy. If I were to liken it to a Christmas movie, It’s a Wonderful Life might be going too far, so perhaps It’s Not Such a Bad Life would fit us better.

But all in all, I hope 2010 will be more the case of Christmas comes but once a year, and yes I will be drinking beer!

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