Tracy Pellett talks about her experience of supporting the business through the COVID-19 crisis. 

The last six months have been strange for us all in different ways, whether it be working-from-home or additional demands on our jobs, encountering circumstances we never thought possible a year ago.

Tracy joined Specsavers in September 2017, moving to Guernsey with her family from the Midlands for the role of Director of Goods not for Resale (GNFR) Procurement, then, in November last year Tracy also took on responsibility for Supply Chain Commercial Operations. 

Specsavers Supply Chain is responsible for the manufacture and supply of ophthalmic lenses, contact lenses and frames, as well as the acquisition of goods and services not for resale. It’s a fast-paced, complex, global operation that delivers to the highest standards. 

Tracy’s philosophy in life is to work hard and be committed to delivering fantastic results for the business while balancing that drive with quality downtime.  For Tracy, making quality time with her family to enjoy Guernsey is very important, taking advantage of the beautiful island by getting outdoors for coastal walks and fresh air whenever possible … in all weathers!  As you read through our interview with Tracy, you’ll find how that’s been more important to her than ever during the last ten months. 

How has COVID19 affected your role at Specsavers? 

The COVID19 impact hit Supply Chain hard in January 2020, with Asia Supply Chain operations impacted several weeks before the rest of the business started to feel its effects. I was asked to lead a Supply Chain COVID Response Team, which brought together a team of people from across different business areas to deal with the situation.  It was a real baptism of fire for me, having been in my Operations role for under three months.  I considered my role as the conductor of an orchestra of some amazing people who all know their individual disciplines and what needed to be addressed. My role was to set the context, the pace and enable the team to deliver what was needed

What was your key priority 

At that time our key priority was around product supply from China, with a big focus on frames; many of our frame manufacturers could not open their factories after Chinese New Year due to COVID-19, which was a big concern.  We also had to keep our Asia operations running safely under very challenging restrictions and at one point we had one of our Asia Manufacturing & Distribution sites out of action due to those restrictions, which meansupply had to be diverted within the network.  

Every operation within Supply Chain was on the pitch for this, from Product Procurement, Demand Planning, Logistics, M&D and GNFR Procurement.  We had daily meetings to make sure we had progress and alignment in a very rapidly evolving situation.

What was your biggest challenge 

One of the biggest challenges was the procurement of PPE.  As the virus took hold in Europe and full lockdown occurred, we closed our stores for an initial period of time until an agreement with health authorities saw us allowed to reopen for ‘essential care’.  But they had to operate very differently, and this is when the PPE challenge came in. 

Very, very quickly we needed to determine PPE standards, potential demand and potential sources of supply – sounds easy when you say it, but it wasn’t.  For me personally, it was the biggest challenge we had to face, and it brought the highest and the lowest points of the last ten months.  Spinning up Supply Chain to meet this new requirement again involved utilising the skills and experience of a much broader team of capable and committed people. 

At the highest point you are making a difference and you feel like you’re massively contributing to the business, ensuring our stores could open to provide the essential care our customers and front-line workers needed from us.  At the lowest point we were struggling to get our hands-on PPE that would meet strict guidelines. It was the Wild West out there, with demand outstripping supply, there were rogue PPE’ items being offered to us that didn’t meet the strict standards we were adhering to and prices were going through the roof.   

But as a team of people bringing all our knowledge and expertise to the table, we managed to get the PPE we needed and our stores were able to remain open, operating very safely and according to all the guidelines in place. It meant we could see our customers and that’s what’s really important in all this

What have you enjoyed over the last 10 months? 

Without a doubt the challenge and the team spirit.  At the time it was hard, and you wonder how youre ever going to get through it, but you do.  Ive reflected a lot with my team and other colleagues; its been a tough year for so many in different ways, but its also been rewarding with opportunities for great personal developmentIve been massively energised and inspired by the ‘in it together’ spiritour business has had a real sense of purpose and has empowered people to get on and do their job.  Being able to work with my team and deliver against critical aspects like PPE was fantastic, you’re all literally rolling up your sleeves to figuring out how youre going to solve the problem.  “Chewing the fat” together, exploring different ideas brought a real sense of belonging. 

It’s also taught me so much about myself.  

What have you learnt about yourself over the last 10 months? 

I’m much more resilient than I thought I was, there were some real tough days, but you get through them and still make things happen and still manage to smile! 

I also recognised that get my energy from others, collaboration to drive business results is a motivator for me.  As an individual I need to be challenged with different opportunities to get the grey cells working, I have no doubt Specsavers will continue to enable me to do this going forward. 

What kept you going through the tough times? 

There were tears, there was laughter, there was anger, there was joy  all the emotions.  Whilst I put the weight of the world on my shoulders I felt really supported at all levels of the organisation.  As I was feeling all these emotions, others were too – each of us sharing how we were feeling the impact at different times and showing real vulnerability was very much a comfort and a strength.  We definitely picked each other up and there were lots of proper belly laughs breaking the tension of the day. 

How did you look after your own well-being during this time? 

Many long hours have been worked by lots of people, it’s hard to switch off but you have to make the time to do a few things to keep the balance. Maintaining my fitness was massively important, most mornings I was up at 5:30am to go for a run or a walk with the dog which often set me up for the day.  My husband and 13-year-old daughter Evie also deserve a level of normality, so having mealtime with them was ringfenced as much as possible.  Wellbeing is also about those treat momentsso I made sure that each day no matter how busy I was I took a few minutes to enjoy my favourite Tony’s chocolate …I should have shares in that company!  Little things can make a big difference. 

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