At the start of March 2020, we thought that we’d got through what would be the most stressful time for our business. In January 2020, our caster’s workshop had been flooded which had led to us having no restocks for months, and had been trying to manage customer enquiries, pending replacement orders, and increasing resin production to pick up some income. But by March, we were finally getting minis coming in – slower than we and our customers would have liked but it was something. We had been following the news about the coronavirus that was seemingly impacting other countries, but had honestly been only casting half a mind over it while we were absorbed with working out how to get stock in and get sales going again – especially with our upcoming trip to Giordano’s Pizza Adepticon in Chicago.
When Adepticon was cancelled, we were disappointed but thought it would give us the chance to increase stock levels for the website – something of a silver lining. But then, on the 23rd March 2020, the UK Government issued the Stay at Home order to curb the spread of Covid-19. As Spectre at the time consisted only of myself and Steve, we were able to keep working from the Spectre office since we are a household. In theory, we could keep running as usual once the post offices opened again. Except that we were still waiting for 4 months of stock backlog and the rest of the country had shut down operations. While some other gaming companies went through what would be their most profitable year on the books with all their customers having to stay home, we quickly ran out of stock to sell. There was no rent relief for our office and little coming in from sales, which was concerning both for the business and for us personally with Spectre forming our entire household income. We had sets of new releases lined up and ready but no one to make moulds and cast them; after a couple of months running at limited availability, we didn’t have the money for tooling these either.
In May 2020, Steve began working for Games Workshop as a designer. Some of the personal stress was alleviated, and I could focus on getting Spectre back up and running as businesses could start operating to some degree once again. The next few months led to a lot of difficult decisions that were made to keep Spectre going, a feat that seemed more and more unlikely as the year progressed. I was eventually able to find a new caster in Nottingham that had more casting facilities and meant that I could drop in to get stock weekly. We discussed turnaround times, and this seemed like the win that had been needed! So, I decided to make all the metal figures available for pre-order to help prioritise the casting list and get sales going again. The casting times should have been around 4 weeks, so it all seemed doable. On the first weekend of pre-orders, we received over 500 orders and then our caster’s main machine broke down.
This is roughly the point that I started to think I had been cursed and decided it was time to get a Plan B and go back to university.
Usually the machine repair would have taken less than a week, but with the impact of lockdown this ended up taking weeks. There were also additional problems that were cropping up, like a shortage of metal. The pre-orders that I thought would take 4 weeks to fulfil ended up taking months. At this point, I was still running everything on my own; packing stock, fulfilling orders, replying to emails, and trying to maintain our social media presence. It did not feel like the company could survive the year and so in September I started my Master’s degree, thinking that I could definitely do that full time and keep on top of the business. It has been suggested that I am completely stubborn and think I know best have a tendency to take on a bit too much. By early October, things were picking back up with the online store and I found that I was unable to juggle everything which is exactly what Steve had said would happen but I didn’t listen. Thankfully, help came in the form of Becki, who joined Spectre in November to take over as the Operations Manager. Having someone who hadn’t been through the stress of the previous 8 months was exactly what we needed. She was able to approach things without having the memories of the difficulties that the company had gone through to get there, and she also had no problem at all pointing out when I was being completely pig-headed hadn’t considered alternative approaches that may work more effectively.
Of course, we weren’t out of the woods. The impact of 2020 and lockdown lasted a lot longer than we had hoped. It was incredibly hard to communicate that, even though the country was largely operating as normal, we were still sorting through the fallout. We still had the new releases that had been meant for 2020, along with sets that Steve had sculpted for the future before he left, but we were still struggling to find the production costs. We made the move to a smaller office unit and kept pushing forward. Our previous plans for monthly releases that we’d developed at the end of 2019 had to be scrapped. We instead released sets as and when we could throughout 2021 and 2022 and tried not to take speculations over future of our company too personally (which can be tough when it’s just 2 of you!) We can admit now that it came close to being the end, but we’re so thankful that it wasn’t. With Becki’s incredible hard work and innovations, advice and support from Ben and Connor at Black Site Studios, and encouragement from our amazing friends and family, we got through it and now have what we genuinely believe will be the most exciting year for the business ahead of us. I can’t put into words how great it feels to be excited for Spectre’s future again.
I hope you haven’t read this as a pity post, because it is anything but! As a business, we have endured and overcome some completely unforeseeable difficulties and I want to express how proud I am of us for that, and how infinitely grateful we are to our customers and supporters. Those of you who reached out during those tough months to check in, or who replied to our multiple apologies for delays with kindness, please know that we recognise your names and they make us smile whenever an order pops up from you.
So, here’s to 2023. Bring it on.