What a year it’s been!
We started it as we do every year, by exhibiting at the world’s largest toy trade fair in Germany, for 5 days. There we received a great response to our toys from buyers across the globe. COVID hadn’t hit Europe yet – it was only rampant in China.
I recall feeling sympathy towards the China Pavilion – where many Chinese businesses had travelled half way across the world to showcase their products, yet cautiously, no one would visit their booths.
We returned back to UK, exhausted but satisfied having secured some good business. Little did we know that COVID was only just starting to rear its ugly head.
It started with our factories in China shutting down – manufacturing came to a halt, factories closed their doors for several weeks to stop the spread.
Not comprehending the severity of the situation, we panicked and wondered how we would fulfil our orders. However later, we understood why that was a necessary and effective measure. Around the beginning of March, to our relief, China had started to get the virus under control – and factories started to re-open and work slowly resumed.
Our orders were delayed a little but we were still on schedule to get them for Ramadan – just about! But then, the virus had started to reach UK, Europe and slowly the world started shutting down including UAE, Saudi, USA, Canada, Australia, South Africa – it seemed few countries were spared.
The holy city of Mecca was closed to pilgrims for the first time in modern history. Governments around the world closed schools, shopping malls, shops, restaurants – everyone was in lockdown, in an attempt to stop the spread of this deadly virus.
Slowly we started to receive cancellations from our customers for orders that had already been placed. We couldn’t blame them – retail outlets were going to be closed during the peak Ramadan season when most sales happen. Also, many businesses couldn’t physically take delivery of shipments – warehouses were shut, and logistics were minimal -. The situation looked bleak.
Offices closed, and everyone started to work from home where possible. Hospitals became full and we worried for friends and family who fell ill, and in hospital alone. Like most people, we dealt with bad news, sad news, devastating news;
We did our best to support each other – from a distance. It was tough – so much was out of our control. “Stay at home, save lives, protect the NHS” was a household mantra. NHS deservedly became celebrated heroes.
As a business we were one of the lucky ones. We quickly morphed our business into an online B2C rather than the B2B. That said many of our retailers also had an online presence and we heard from them that the online business seemed largely unaffected by the virus situation, and in fact was thriving. It seems online shopping was a favourite pastime for many!
We did our best to keep our heads above water – We relied on Royal Mail and couriers – what would online businesses have done without them? Delivery drivers were the unsung heroes in my humble opinion.
Then some surprising good news came on 21st April 2020 during the first official UK lockdown:
We’d been awarded The Queen’s Award in International Trade 2020 – only the most prestigious award that any British business can hope to achieve!
We’d been invited to Buckingham Palace – but of course that was postponed indefinitely. We still haven’t been able to celebrate this win in the manner it deserves – but I’m very chuffed for receiving the award!
Ramadan came, and despite the mosques being shut, everyone had the best Ramadan at home with their families. Yes, we couldn’t celebrate Eid with friends and extended family – but we had Zoom!
We continued to stay positive. Doorstep food drop-offs, and waving to parents from the end of their driveway was the new norm. As a family unit we came closer together – We walked, we talked, walked some more — our greatest family achievement of 2020 was establishing Fajr Salah (waking daily for the pre-dawn prayer) – and if nothing else was achieved that was more than enough for us!
On the business side, we kept our heads down and continued to focus on designing and launching more exciting toys in the coming year.
I can honestly say that I’ve never worked harder on my business than I have in this last year.
There were many challenges to overcome: Delayed shipments, large orders cancelled, shipping rates through the roof, imitations of My Dua’ Pillows being sold, to name a few. I rarely took a complete day off, in fact that never happened.
The lockdown made me determined to keep striving, and I realised that looking forward and planning ahead was a very good coping mechanism.
2020 was a difficult year for so many, and one that we will never forget. Who knows what 2021 holds in store.
We are already in Lockdown 3, but with vaccines well underway, we hope and pray for better times for everyone, everywhere.
Love from the Desi Doll Company family,
Founder & CEO