Lockdown Economy Netherlands in Sensual Tableware Design with Sarah-Linda Forrer

The interview was transcribed and adapted into an article by Agapi Yang

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, we meet Sarah-Linda Forrer, a designer of sensual tableware based in Amsterdam. In this follow-up interview with Lockdown Economy, Sarah-Linda describes how her business situation is starting to turn around, as many of her clients are starting to look into the future, into what comes after the lockdown is lifted. While her focus was on businesses, such as restaurants, in particular, she has successfully shifted towards catering to consumers as well, by setting up a webshop and professionalising her social media marketing. She emphasises the importance of communicating and collaborating with each other to make it through this stage of the pandemic.

Watch the video version of the interview.

How are you currently affected by the pandemic in your business?

Sarah-Linda: It is going better than ever. During the last interview, I was making homemade products in my studio, little ceramic pieces that I was creating and firing in my home studio which could not be considered skilled. It was a very small and short-term solution. After summer I put my webshop online with the ceramics that I make in France, which are the porcelain pieces that I also provide to restaurants. And that went quite well. Then around the same time, I think the restaurants started to look into the future again instead of only problem-solving in the present. The ones that are doing relatively fine in the long term are daring to think about the future and to see what they can change in the restaurant. They are thinking about new plates, fortunately. There are actually quite some projects that are happening with restaurants which is nice. Also, I am going to work with a big department store in the Netherlands which is also really nice. So, the consumer part is now starting to be good and the restaurant part to revive. Things are good, better than I expected.

How’s the transition from working for businesses to working for end-customers been for you?

Sarah-Linda: I have only done one big order to have some stock for the webshop which has almost been depleted. So I placed a new order but I am waiting for it as it takes a long time. Somehow the factory is also really busy. It is a bit risky when I make a new order, in which case it is bigger than the first because I never know of course if I am going to sell everything. But the more customers I have the more the word will spread and then, even more, will come hopefully. I think it will be fun. And the restaurant orders that are coming are backing up the business so it is fine. It is a different way of working but it is more interesting because it is like making a guess of what people might buy and you can never really know.

Do you think a client like the big department store will provide you with some stability in terms of order size?

Sarah-Linda: I cannot really say as they just put their first order. It is also the first time for the department store to work with a business like mine. My products are so different from the usual ceramics and tableware so they do not really know how it will turn out. I do not think it will give me stability quite yet unless it is sold instantly and they place a new order and then another one. It will take some time to realize what people want more and so that they order more of something over another. But hopefully, it will give a bit more stability and more credibility and reach. In any case, it will be good.

You mentioned that the manufacturer in France was affected by the governmental measures, do you know what their situation is right now?

Sarah-Linda: I am not sure what the exact measures are in France, except for wearing masks everywhere. But I think the majority is back to work and they have orders going. They have found a way to cope with the situation.

How do you think both customers and suppliers or even the competitors are coping with the situation right now?

Sarah-Linda: The focus on consumers is bigger than ever for everybody, particularly online focus. In France the shops are open but there are still a lot of measures so people are not shopping in the streets like before. Everybody focused on the online business and a lot of them needed to quite upskill their online game. Everyone has and everyone they had to and they have learned a lot. It is good in the sense that these things had to be hurried a bit. Because for me, I was thinking one day I will do the consumer market, I will do an online store but then I never did. Now I had to. It pushes you to do it a little bit faster.

Looking back on establishing the webshop, was it a smooth introduction? What are some of your learnings in the process?

Sarah-Linda: Currently I am doing everything by myself. So it was not impossible or rather there were not really big things that I had to learn as I already had a webshop before. It is a lot of work but you can do it. Photography adds on even more work but it is the other part, the marketing that I could have more help with. Having an online presence is really important now and even though I have help, I could do with a bit more. There is just so much work and so much content and so much photography to do but it is interesting. And I definitely learned, not necessarily more, but about setting up the webshop, what is important to show and what the text should be like, what to put or not to put on there. I learned about communication and the importance of its clarity.

Have you expanded the team or it is still mostly by yourself?

Sarah-Linda: It is by myself. I have one marketing advisor and we have once a month a meeting and then in between little things. She helps me think about the strategy and what I should focus on, but then it is me who actually does the work.

Given the circumstances your business is doing good, what are you doing to make the most of the situation?

Sarah-Linda: Improving the webshop, there is always something to do better. Having the new stock and that means having different pieces, new photography, everything that it entails. I have this feeling that the restaurants that are not going bankrupt at the moment are looking towards the future and are willing to think about new pieces and new tableware or new interior. So I am emailing more and I have started to contact restaurants again, something which I did not do during the pandemic. It is high time to think about what is important, what you should focus on, where you want to put your money and then do it. Because now is time and there is space to do it.

Have you received any positive responses from restaurants that they are looking towards the future?

Sarah-Linda: A lot of restaurants, or at least the ones I have spoken with, are refurbishing. That might be tables or interior, maybe the communication design, a lot of things. They are really taking their time to redo the whole thing so that is really nice. And I think the tableware is always a big part of it and so I feel really lucky to have people or restaurants that have the money to do that right now and are not just trying to survive.

What are you focusing on for the next couple of months?

Sarah-Linda: Upscaling my marketing game would be the main. I am collaborating a lot and partnering up with different people. Basically working on my online world, the journal, inspiration, information and everything that comes with what I do I want to work on that more. This means working with a lot of people that have their own expertise on a topic related to it. So right now it is about opening up, collaborating and communicating.

Could you name three things that you could need help with at the moment?

Sarah-Linda: I can always have help with business strategy because I am not a business born person, I am more creative. Everything that has to do with the strategy behind the scenes would be nice to have advice on. Marketing, even though I have advice, but doing the work itself is so much so in that sense it would be nice to have some help. Lastly, I am working on broadening the journal, which is where guests can write about something they have expertise in, anything related to food sustainability, beauty, anything that connects pleasure and sustainability in a way. If anybody wants to write something, let me know.

Any last words to our audience?

Sarah-Linda: I feel there’s hope in the air even if we are all desperate to know when the end will be and we still don’t know and even though the vaccine is there but everything is still unclear. But I feel there is hope, maybe because spring is coming. So I would just say, keep going, do not give up. I do not know if this sense of opening up and communicating applies to other people too, but if you can, do that. Because opening up and partnering up with others gives so much inspiration, knowledge and opportunity.

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.

Website: www.sarahlindaforrer.com

The UN-registered nonprofit social initiative that helps small businesses and self-employed professionals to overcome the challenges of the pandemic.