Lockdown Economy Nederland in Sensual Tableware Design with Sarah-Linda Forrer
The interview was transcribed and adapted into an article by Daniele Busato
Lockdown Economy: Interviews by think tank AlterContacts.org with real entrepreneurs sharing insights, challenges and successes during the COVID19 global pandemic to inspire, motivate and encourage other entrepreneurs around the world.
In this interview hosted by Rosie Allison, we meet Sarah-Linda Forrer, a designer of sensual tableware based in Amsterdam. Sarah-Linda discussed how her client base fell away when the pandemic forced restaurants, her core clients, to close. She faced the challenge of having to construct a new business plan to target consumers at home in order to stimulate her business during the pandemic. Sarah-Linda was able to target this new area of the market by investing in online marketing tools, a new webshop and customer research to ensure she was able to keep selling her products throughout the lockdown.
Could you explain to us more about your business?
Sarah-Linda: I design sensual tableware for mostly high-end restaurants. It’s sensual and organic because I want to reconnect people with what they eat. In a general way, that’s what I would love to do: inspire people to eat better, have more respect for where their food comes from, what’s in it and to have pleasure and intention when they’re actually eating it. The food system is the biggest problem in the world right now (next to Covid, obviously) but there are so many things depending on it and related to it, so it is important that we take better care of it.
From this goal and inspiration, I started making tableware that would connect people more directly with what they eat. I’ve been doing it for two years “officially” (in the sense that I’ve found a good manufacturer and I can get my tableware from there and sell it with all things in place). I did some crowd-funding in 2016 when I started doing it for the first time, and from there I developed the connections that I have now.
What about the size of your business? Do you have any employees?
Sarah-Linda: I do everything alone. That’s a blessing now because I don’t have to be worried about other people. There are also some negatives to this situation, but in times like these, it’s good.
How large is your client-base?
Sarah-Linda: It’s hard to say how many clients I have because it’s a number that changes all the time, and also because I’m still new and developing. Since the lockdown, however, the number has gone to zero (at the beginning at least), but I do have clients around Europe and in the USA as well.
How did the pandemic affect you and what did you do to overcome the situation?
Sarah-Linda: When the pandemic started in March I was supposed to go on a holiday, about a week after the lockdown started, so I stayed home and took the holiday anyway. This was good because I wasn’t so stressed out about everything immediately, but then I had to realize that restaurants are going to be closed so, for the time being, all my clients were gone, hence I decided to switch partly to consumers.
My manufacturer in France was closed as well, so I couldn’t order anything either. The only thing I had was my studio, so I could produce a little bit at home; I decided to go back to the roots and think of what I can produce and sell now for people at home, and since they’re not going out to dinner anymore and are cooking more, they probably want simple, easy and sturdy pieces of tableware. So I went to the studio and started making a few different pieces for people at home, very simple and colourful. In the beginning, I offered my work to locals, instead of all over Europe, because I think everybody in this time is going local, and it’s a good thing to see what you actually have around, all the good places and people. The small business I worked for here could then spread the word to other businesses, so slowly I started selling my pieces and learned about a new type of market.
Did you try anything during the pandemic that didn’t work?
Sarah-Linda: I didn’t really try any other things, because everything is uncertain and nobody knows when we can open again once this is all over, so I don’t want to put any money or energy into something that I don’t even know if I could sell or not. Right now, the best thing to do is to listen to the people and learn what they want. I didn’t even try contacting restaurants, because I didn’t want to overwhelm them with something they don’t really have money or thoughts for right now. After the first wave I actually received a few orders again from restaurants, but as soon as the second wave hit, it was back to the small things.
How is it going in this new, smaller, local market?
Sarah-Linda: It’s going fine, but I’ll admit that in between the two waves I was happy to receive orders again because things were flowing and it felt like things were alive again. Consumer market was actually something that I’ve been wanting to do for a while, but that I never pursued since to enter that kind of market you need stock, which is a big investment, whereas for restaurants it’s all made-to-order, so I can just wait for an order and then produce. Now I would like to open a web-shop for consumers with the porcelain I make in France because the manufacturer is open again there, so it provides me with the stock I need to put online in a few weeks and see how it works; so now I’m focusing more on consumers than on restaurants, but I hope I can get back to both soon.
How are your customers and competition doing in this period?
Sarah-Linda: I don’t know precisely, but surely everybody is having a hard time because nobody is making orders. Web-shops are doing quite well for consumers, because — if people still have a job — since they can’t go out they may turn to buying and re-creating their home. I know that people selling to restaurants are in my same situation, it’s really hard right now. Consumers and waiting for better times are the only things we can do right now.
Did you have to re-train yourself in order to open the web-shop and move to local consumers, or did you already have it all in you?
Sarah-Linda: I did have a web-shop before, so I already had a website to build into. The marketing part, however, is more difficult for me. I’ve done some research and partnered up with people, but I still have lots to learn in that direction.
What’s your outlook for the upcoming few months?
Sarah-Linda: Hopefully, this web-shop will work: I have a really small stock to start with so we’ll see how it goes, and of course Christmas is not too far away so I hope people will get lots of presents. I think I’m going to learn many things from the people who will purchase on how to reach them and contact media outlets to share the message. I’m going to learn about online selling and do some market research, dive more deeply into the consumers who would buy from me. I hope that then I can focus on restaurants again.
If you had to name three things that you need help with for your business today, what would they be?
Sarah-Linda: Online marketing, all the selling, getting in touch with consumers, advertising and so forth are things I’m not really an expert in.
Any suggestions to other small business owners?
Sarah-Linda: Don’t give up, get back to your roots and to your why. This will help with finding a new direction if necessary.
About the Guest
Sarah-Linda Forrer is a product designer based in Amsterdam. With her intuitive and experimental way of working she searches for new beauty and attractive tactility. Focusing on luxury tableware and interior accessories, Sarah-Linda Forrer combines her organic shapes with high-end craftsmanship to create singular products of the highest quality.