The curtain fell on Stagekings so they pulled off the ultimate scene change.
Friday the 13th of March was a dark day for stage and set design company Stagekings. Having just put the finishing touches on a grand set piece for performances by Miley Cyrus and Robbie Williams at the F1 Melbourne Grand Prix only hours later, they got a call. The event – one of Victoria’s largest – was cancelled.
“It all fell apart over that weekend,” says managing director Jeremy Fleming. “Vivid Sydney cancelled, the Easter Show cancelled. When the government said, ‘No public gatherings,’ that was it for us because everything we do is a public gathering. I’d say 98 per cent of our work went up in smoke.”
But less than 48 hours later, the Sydney-based company, which has produced staging for everything from Australian Ninja Warrior to the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, had a plan to survive the crisis. It would go from manufacturing pop-up stages to pop-up furniture for the new stay-at-home workforce.
It started with a single desk – designed in a day by Fleming’s colleague Mick Jessop – and by the end of April, the IsoKing collection had grown to 16 products, including laptop and monitor stands. The business took orders for more than 4500 pieces and they hadn’t just saved the jobs of 23 staff; within four weeks their crew had more than doubled to 56. “We’ve all had to learn new skills,” says Fleming. “Ecommerce and online retail is not something any of us really knew anything about.”
Importantly, the desks needed to work and reach customers fast. For Fleming, “fast” meant delivering within 24 hours in metro areas and 48 hours in the regions – no easy feat for a fledgling business.
IsoKing’s core market, explains Fleming, is “mid-20s to late-30s women who are now working at home”. He says they love that “it’s a great-looking desk, it’s ultra-functional, it goes up in 30 seconds and can be pulled down again.” It’s a customer base mostly derived from social media marketing. “Our original Facebook post now has been seen 600,000 times and it’s just gone from there. We’ve had about 200 five-star reviews on Facebook and at least 150 direct responses from happy customers.”
“I want self-isolation to last longer,” wrote one fan, “just so I can see what new products you bring out.”
They’re also giving back to those in need. Stagekings are donating $10 from every desk to Support Act’s COVID-19 Emergency Appeal, assisting music industry workers affected by the shutdown. By the end of the first month the company donated more than $20,000. By the end of May, it had reached $30,000.
“There’s so much negativity around at the moment but the positivity here is next level because we’ve been able to bring in people from other companies and other parts of the industry that had nothing. Everyone is so thankful.” And staff numbers are equivalent to those working on the 2018 Commonwealth Games “so we’re almost equal to our busiest period.”
Pivoting yet again as restrictions eased, Stagekings moved into selling modular furniture to businesses updating office layouts for COVID-safe workspaces. And Fleming is hopeful the new revenue streams will outlive the crisis. “I really see that post-corona there’s going to be a greater appreciation for Australian manufacturing and so we want to continue to ride this wave,” he says. “We’re working on other products to take over as desk sales drop away. We dream big; we always have. Someone said to me the other day, ‘Oh, this can’t last,’ and I said, ‘Well, tell that to IKEA!’”
How to put an idea into action in three days
DAY 1: Start designing the product
“A mate in Ireland was doing some furniture and it flicked a switch in me. Mick Jessop, our head of production, designs and builds little pieces for himself so he just jumped on it.”
DAY 2: Build a prototype and a website
“Mick worked on it Sunday night and came to the office on Monday with a couple of 3D-printed models and said, ‘Here’s a desk and a stand-up desk – I think these are going to work.’ We cut them on some nice birch ply and they worked a treat. That was the template. That night, my wife, Tabitha, and I got the ecommerce site underway. We had a basic Squarespace website with ecommerce capability but we’d never used it. We watched a couple of tutorials then gave it a go.”
DAY 3: Start marketing
“We spent Tuesday morning taking photos of the desks and uploading them to the site, which went live at 3pm. I put an email out and a Facebook post and it took off from there.”