Life In Lockdown: Mint Group’s Debbie, Alan, Tom Williams and Sophie Bylina

Every greeting card publishing company has faced various challenges during the pandemic and come up with different solutions to cope with the changing times; which staff to furlough, how to respond to customers’ needs, social distancing between colleagues among them. Determined to continue to offer a full service throughout, the Corby-based Mint Group (which comprises Museums & Galleries, Mint and Real and Exciting Designs) has certainly lived up to its ‘family business’ description with owners’ Debbie and Alan’s son Tom (general manager) and his partner Sophie Bylina (administration and relationships manager) moving in together so that they could run the business while providing safety and support to each other.

While accepting it is not everyone who would agree to “move in with their in-laws” be it for work or any other reason, Sophie reveals that it will be a period none of them will ever forget – for good reasons (mainly!).

Above: Debbie and Alan Williams, co-owners of the Mint Group on their Museums & Galleries’ stand at PG Live.
Above: Debbie and Alan Williams, co-owners of the Mint Group on their Museums & Galleries’ stand at PG Live.

“Tom and I took the decision to move in with his parents, Debbie and Alan, in order to protect us all and to keep the business running. It minimised the risk if we could work from home together, or travel to work together and effectively self-isolate together.

What started as an initial three-week period back in March seems a long time ago now as we are now into our 8th week together.

Above: Mint Group’s general manager Tom Williams, his partner Sophie Bylina, the company’s administration and relationships manager and their puppy Buddy (wearing his NHS bandana) moved in with Tom’s parents Debbie and Alan Williams for the duration of the lockdown.
Above: Mint Group’s general manager Tom Williams, his partner Sophie Bylina, the company’s administration and relationships manager and their puppy Buddy (wearing his NHS bandana) moved in with Tom’s parents Debbie and Alan Williams for the duration of the lockdown.

Furloughing most staff meant we all took on new roles to keep the operations of the company going, picking and packing all orders that have been received by phone, email or via our different websites.”

How has trade been? “Sales were difficult in April but nevertheless we had some healthy and consistent orders from retailers not immediately exposed to the lockdown, primarily greengrocers, chemists, and post offices. We really wanted to support our retail customers in any way needed, especially as our core product – greeting cards – positively help connect people and sending cards to loved ones and friends is such a great way to put a smile on someone’s face.

The extended team: “We might not have seen our colleagues, but Alan has three pet pigs which have been getting more regular visits from us.

Plus, in our ‘spare time’ we have enjoyed walking our puppy Buddy in the countryside, along with Debbie and Alan’s two dogs.”

Above: Bangers, Sausage and Mash, Alan Williams’ pet pigs who have had more attention with Tom and Sophie being there too.
Above: Bangers, Sausage and Mash, Alan Williams’ pet pigs who have had more attention with Tom and Sophie being there too.

What has eased living with your in-laws? “Going out running in the fresh air and rewarding myself afterwards with a large white wine! Joking aside, we all get on really well which is why we knew we could make it work. We have had some really funny times to look back on with from Zoom quiz nights, to a Tuesday night disco and lots of laughs.

Every Thursday we applaud the key workers for their hard work and their incredible resilience throughout this time. Tom and I even wear ‘Clap for the NHS’ T-shirts that were designed by a 13-year old girl called Jemima. Buddy our chocolate Labrador also proudly wears his blue bandana which states ‘NHS thank you’.”

What’s happening now? “Since the government has announced steps towards easing the lockdown, our colleagues are being recalled from furlough in stages, with some Corby staff returning this week.

Above: The Panache range from Real and Exciting Designs, part of the Mint Group, has been shipped throughout lockdown, having been picked and packed by Debbie, Alan, Tom and Sophie.
Above: The Panache range from Real and Exciting Designs, part of the Mint Group, has been shipped throughout lockdown, having been picked and packed by Debbie, Alan, Tom and Sophie.

We have put measures in place in readiness at our premises to ensure social distancing is maintained, including hand sanitiser stations, 2m distancing signs and staff will have temperature checks. We have to protect each other through this.

Our Museums & Galleries’ studio, based in Frome, has kept working throughout the lockdown, albeit with all the designers working from home with the team collectively working towards 2021 releases as well as others for retail customers readying for a much-needed bounce-back when we return to the ‘new normal’.”

While the coronavirus has added certain challenges, we are still planning to move our warehousing and fulfillment to larger premises this spring, which is very exciting.”

Above: Some of the Museums & Galleries notebooks that have been going out to retailers throughout this period.
Above: Some of the Museums & Galleries notebooks that have been going out to retailers throughout this period.

How will you look back at this period? “It is been a strange and difficult time for everyone, but the silver lining is realising how adaptable and resilient we as a nation can be when we pull together. We are ready to tackle the new challenges in our new normal whatever that looks like.”

 

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