Why hasn’t my bank helped yet? Mulberry founder faces tough times

As Roger Saul, the founder of the Mulberry designer label, gazes out over his Somerset farm, the English countryside is so idyllic it is hard to believe a lethal pandemic is sweeping the world. 

‘There is the most wonderful sunset coming in, with loads of birds flying around. It is beautiful. But even before the virus, we have faced one of the most difficult years I can remember,’ he says. 

The reason for that is the British weather. Saul grows spelt, a type of highfibre wholegrain, at Sharpham Park near Glastonbury, and the rainy winter has been a big problem this year. 

Making hay: Mulberry founder Roger Saul now runs Sharpham Park farm and the Kilver Court designer outlet in Shepton Mallet

The farm supplies supermarkets including Waitrose, Ocado and Whole Foods as well as individual customers. 

‘We haven’t been able to get a tractor on the land until this week, normally it would be November. There is likely to be a massive shortage of wheat and spelt in June, July and August, just when you don’t want that to happen.’ 

Saul now runs Sharpham Park and the Kilver Court designer outlet in Shepton Mallet, but he is best known as the founder of Mulberry, whose handbags are coveted by women worldwide in more normal times. 

During the three decades he ran the company, it became one of the most successful fashion brands in the world, but he was ousted in 2002 after Singaporean billionaire Christina Ong took a major stake. 

But coronavirus is, he says, far worse than anything else in his career. ‘I have been through two global recessions and the Gulf Wars. 

My crisis at Mulberry, that was awful but very different, and of course you can’t compare. I have never experienced anything like this. 

‘I’m having to do everything from home because my 94-yearold mother-in-law is with us. I start at my desk at 7am and just keep going.’ 

At Sharpham Park, orders have increased since the coronavirus panic began. ‘This last three weeks we have been getting 120 orders a day, which is way more than usual – people want pasta, flour – it is a mad shuffle. Some ordering has been eight times as much as normal.’ 

Saul grows spelt, a type of highfibre wholegrain, at his farm near Glastonbury (pictured) which supplies supermarkets including Waitrose, Ocado and Whole Foods

Saul grows spelt, a type of highfibre wholegrain, at his farm near Glastonbury (pictured) which supplies supermarkets including Waitrose, Ocado and Whole Foods 

But Kilver Court, originally bought in the mid-1990s as Mulberry’s headquarters, and now a designer outlet village with a stunning garden, has been hard hit, he says. 

‘It was all fine until about around two weeks ago, then bang – sales dropped by 80-90 per cent. 

‘We worked out what we would need to cover us for three months, and went to the bank. Now we are ten days later and we have no resolve on that side, they haven’t come back to us. 

‘We are with Lloyds [Banking Group]. I was probably the most positive ever seeing the Chancellor and the Prime Minister when they came up with their packages. But now we are in increasing distress and we don’t know what will happen.’ 

He said: ‘Freddy, my son, who is the chief executive of Kilver Court, has just packed up. We will mothball it, but we still need security on the site and a skeleton staff, so that will cost maybe £100,000 a month. 

‘We are funding our staff until they get paid by the Government, which is £50,000 a month. We are an £11million turnover-a-year business. 

‘We will need to rebuild and reopen but whether that is in three months or six months or whenever, it will be a different form of life for a time and different in the long term. 

‘Everything on the High Street will be different. Who’s going to spend money on clothing full price at the moment? 

‘The same applies to home and interiors, it will be a very different world. There will be winners and losers. 

‘A norm will return for fashion shopping, though it might reduce to a different level. Quality and practicality might be more important than having the latest must-have item.’ 

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