A year like no other – Campus Clothing in lockdown.
Like many companies across the country, the COVID-19 pandemic hit Campus Clothing hard.
A normal year would see Campus Clothing providing graduation clothing and memorabilia to university students across the UK by attending graduation events on campus. But in March 2020, the UK government ordered a national lockdown to stop the spread of coronavirus. All on-campus activity stopped, and graduation ceremonies were cancelled.
Here, Daniel Simmons, Campus Clothing Director, reflects on a year like no other.
How was Campus doing at the start of 2020, before the pandemic?
“We were really gaining traction with new products and services which we offered on graduation days to enhance the experience of graduates and their family members at the ceremonies. Our summer event staff, who are some of the best, were looking forward to a season full of hard work and great fun, seeing parts of the country they would not normally have visited.”
How did the pandemic effect Campus Clothing? What measures did you put in place?
“Being an events business, the pandemic and lockdown was a massive shock. Having worked in the cyclical calendar of Summer, Autumn and Winter events for years, it was the first summer without any events in more than a decade. It was very strange.
“Personally, I got to spend a summer with my family for the first time and see the flowers in the garden that I would normally miss, which was lovely. But as a company, the concept of a quieter summer was a challenge.
“We quickly introduced new, more generic products to our lines and contacted all of our valued clients about additional promotion and logistics for supporting each other. They were all great and the response was really positive. We were able to mobilise a different offering for students up and down the country, which we are really proud of. It was so sad that so many students did not have the graduation ceremonies they deserved, but hopefully our products were able to offer a special memento of the end of their studies, even in such challenging circumstances.”
Did you have to furlough staff?
“Yes. All of our staff were put on furlough through the first wave of the pandemic and then put on part-time furlough. Our staff are our family and we will do everything we can to protect their jobs. Everyone has been supportive of the actions we’ve taken, but we are looking forward to the time when we can be together again, attend graduation events and celebrate with graduating students on their special day.”
How did you adapt your business?
“Just as the pandemic hit, we were about to launch our new website. As we entered lockdown we spent time refining the site to help us grow online sales. We invested in new imagery, better marketing tools and worked out how to make the business we all love, more streamlined.
“We also invested in new technology and machinery to help offer more variety in our range and help us produce orders faster. For example, we invested in new printing technology that allowed us to print small white, detailed, logos on garments ten times faster that it would usually have taken with a screen printer. This made us more attractive for institutions to use us to host their online shops and increase the spend on quality branded merchandise.
“The lockdown did offer us an opportunity to get the things done, that we would have never got done, which is a bonus and has allowed us to come out the other side, in a much better shape from an organisational point of view.”
Were the new ways of working successful?
“In many ways, our lockdown experience has been successful. Online sales have seen an uplift of 10%, which is a real surprise as we have not been at events giving out information about how to buy from our website. We also introduced PayPal, which makes it a lot easier for people to go through to the checkout and is now the preferred method of payment. This has really helped too.”
What does 2021 look like for Campus?
“Unfortunately, we’ve already heard that some graduation events are not happening this summer, which is understandable, but a real shame as we know how important graduation is to universities and their students. Campus will continue to provide graduations clothing and merchandise to our clients though, in whatever manner they need. Hopefully we can get back to a normal, happy, in person graduation soon – perhaps by the Winter graduation season.”
When do you think graduation ceremonies will take place?
“Hopefully by the Autumn but I expect the ceremonies will be scaled back, with less people but taking place over a longer period of time. We will be there to fit around our university partners to ensure the best possible experience for graduates and their families. They have been through a rough time and the university life they signed up for as fresh, new, keen students, was not what they expected. They deserve a really special ceremony to mark all their achievements this year.”
What are you most looking forward to when graduations can take place again?
“We can’t wait to have the chance to be around happy people, enjoying the completion of a shared goal. The clinking of glasses, murmur of conversation and talk of a brighter future, is something really special to be a part of. When the restrictions are lifted and we can be at graduation ceremonies again – that feeling will be amazing.”