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Strange Times

COVID-19/Coronavirus preparedness, uncertainty and navigation. As New Zealand takes increased action on the COVID-19/Coronavirus global pandemic, I (Zak) am cataloguing here any and all impact (and/or potential impact) on Homewood Stoves, our family, our suppliers, our employees, those of you already out there with stoves, people we are currently building stoves for, and our prospective customers, going into this rapidly-less-certain future. If you are a customer with an open order, please keep checking back here.

Updates

April 28th, Tuesday morning: NZ dropped down to Level 3 at midnight this morning, and will be at this level for at least another two weeks. Very similar to Level 4, in terms of how businesses operate, Level 3 does broaden the kinds of businesses that can reopen, or for business that have been running in a limited capacity, lifts the restrictions on what they can do (no longer limited to only essential, “necessities of life” activities now).

Specifically for Homewood, this means we can be working toward shipping you out your stove, even if you have access to regular utilities for your necessities of life.

Things are still going to be disrupted and delayed for us as we play catch up, so again I thank you all for your continued patience! We’re operating on reduced staffing levels, with all the inconveniences of physical distancing/extra protocols, and while Level 3 should now see all of our regular suppliers came back online in one form or another, many of they are in turn experiencing their own disruptions and bottlenecks, of course (including local ones that we might normally pop into for incidental things as needed).

Still no visitors to either farm or workshop, thanks. Please continue to avoid phoning if possible, email definitely still preferred to allow me to best schedule getting back to people.

In terms of current orders/deliveries going out over this period, Level 3 will still see them be done contactlessly through Mainfreight (or for more local customers, we can arrange contactless collection, where we would load it onto your vehicle without interacting). Timing-wise, we will endeavour to juggle things to the best of our ability to please all, but were multiple parties wanting all at once, the only way we could really prioritise is on waiting list seniority.

Future orders: welcome to join the waiting list like normal, though please be aware that the normal lead times listed there are very much likely to be optimistic right now. As noted, might take a little while for us to get back to you.

International orders: still “on hold”; this means that you are welcome to join our international wait list on an “expression of interest” type basis, but that we cannot give you any kind of accurate timeframes right now. While air traffic involving NZ has been decimated (and a bunch of air freight delays/complications as a result), our stoves of course ship by sea, which has been largely unaffected. So rather than it being logistic issues that see international orders be disrupted right now, it is our need to recover from the disruptions this coronavirus situation has wreaked, clear the backlog, and get back on top of domestic orders taking priority.

Thanks all – been a truly weird and surreal few weeks huh!
Take care, Zak

April 3rd, Friday midday: have received acknowledgement from MBIE yesterday, as to our essential status, for the types of situation laid out below in the previous update. Please contact me at any point over this Level 4 period, should your need for a stove (or stove parts) become urgent and needed for the provision of the necessities of life (cooking, home heating and the production of hot water) – the more notice you can give me, the better, this is still very much a period of disruption for us all.

I can supply you with a letter, should your local plumber, installer or council require one in order to proceed with installation work:

From: https://www.building.govt.nz/covid-19

Though not explicitly stated anywhere yet (as much as you all love your stoves, what we do is still very niche!), the ability to cook food and have reliable supply of hot water are both also inarguably essential to life.

Lacking any of the three would be more than enough justification to arrange installation.

March 25th, Wednesday midday: “Only businesses that are essential to the provision of the necessities of life may remain open during the Level 4 Alert period” – until we receive specific advice to the contrary, (as relates to our tiny, non-mainstream, niche business/industry), we are prepared to operate in a very limited capacity (taking all precaution) for those of you out there who do not have access to regular utilities (remote/off-grid), and rely instead on your Homewood for the necessities of life (cooked food, warm home, hot water). If your health or wellbeing is ever at risk over this 4 week (minimum) Level Four time, due to anything unexpected rendering your stove unable to be safely operated and you need critical spare parts/remote support/etc; get in touch. We will help you.

Likewise, if any of you with stoves currently on order are isolated in a remote situation that lacks access to regular utilities, and are relying on your yet-to-arrive Homewood for the necessities of life in the very-near future (cooked food, warm home, hot water), please also get in touch. You may be cooking out-of-doors now, while the weather is still mild, but are worried about where you will be left the deeper we get into autumn and the closer winter approaches. Plumbers are allowed to do work where needed for “the necessities of life or critical to safety. This includes electricians, plumbers and builders” over this time, so if you have genuine and legitimate need, they should be able to help installation, and we will do what we can to supply and support you. Our regular transport company, Mainfreight, remain open during every alert level, and already have robust protocols in place for contactless pickups and deliveries.

We have established protocols for alternative ways of working here during Level Four, so are prepared to do all we must to maintain/supply the necessities of life, if and as needed. If at any point over this uncertain period, you fall into this category, get in touch.

Those with stoves on order who would really love it now, and would find this stressful time more comfortable with it, but do not need it, I am truly sorry – we will not ship to you. Any limited business activity Homewood Stoves engages in from the factory over this period will strictly be to the degree required for the immediate provision of necessities of life, only.

Take care everyone. Zak

March 23rd, Monday evening: further to the update below, and as I continue to digest the limited information available, it is my belief that Homewood Stoves should be classed as an “essential business” (at least in some limited capacity) for those of you who are legitimately relying on us. Looking here again, “Utilities: Electricity, gas, water, waste, fuel, telecommunication services, internet providers and media”, I believe a strong case can be made that for those of you waiting for a stove in off-grid/remote situations, where normal utilities such as those highlighted do not reach, your wood-burning cast-iron cooking stove is in fact essential; especially the further we get into autumn, and the closer to winter. Likewise for supporting those of you out there who already own stoves, do not have access to regular utilities, and need to keep your stove running to provide warmth, cooked food and hot water.

Homewood Stoves is well set up for alternative ways of working with our low staff numbers, spacious (rabbit-warren-like) workshop for physical distancing, and P2/N95 respirators are already a key part of our PPE. They say there should be more information and a 0800 number that will hopefully shed more light on things soon. As below, even if deemed non-essential, at the very least I will continue to drive here, and work on alone [Later update: sounds like even this will not be allowed now, by looking here – so much uncertainty right now. Zak, 25/03/2020]

March 23rd, Monday afternoon: well, this has moved far faster than I think anyone might have anticipated. The PM has just announced we are in Level 3 alert level already, and moving to Level 4 (the most restrictive) from Wednesday. Safe to say that the entire nation is now entering uncharted territory.

What I Need From You:
– if you have a stove on order (paid-in-full, or deposit) and are in a vulnerable position needing your stove as soon as possible (as in, the lack of stove jeopardises your ongoing wellbeing in the very near future), please let me know right away. The types of people that I am thinking of here: people who have recently moved into off-grid homes in which the stove is a vital component; people in remote or isolated communities, such as living on islands.
– your patience and understanding, as always. This is likely the most stressful period of time many of us have ever experienced.
– check here for updates, rather than phoning us. Email for clarifications needed, and please be patient with me responding.

What We Will Be Doing:
– this next 48 hour period that we are all in Level 3 for, has been given as a chance to prepare for going into the 4-week (minimum) Level 4. This means I am not expecting my employees to be here at work, but rather taking care of their family and home situations.
– learning what Level 4 means for us being able to get stoves to you. From what the PM talked about (paraphrasing: “Living in isolation, locally”, “Perfectly OK to drive to a beach, and walk along it with people you are isolating with”), I can imagine at the very least myself (Zak) being able to come here, alone, and carrying on with people’s stoves. If Mainfreight remain able to do contactless pickups and deliveries, then I hope to continue getting stoves to people over this time. [Later update: or not – sounds like even this will not be allowed now, by looking here – so much uncertainty right now. Zak, 25/03/2020]

March 21st, Saturday afternoon: confirmed cases rose in NZ from the 8 I mentioned below, just five days earlier, to 52, earlier today. We closed our borders to all non-citizens a couple of days ago. The government also revealed four levels of disruption in response to this crisis, and said that we’re at level 2, nationwide. The good news is that: “at all levels, health services, emergency services, utilities and goods transport, and other essential services, operations and staff, are expected to remain up and running.”

This level we are currently at (Level 2) does ask over 70s (not quite Dad) and people with underlying health conditions (definitely Dad, who suffers from asbestosis due asbestos exposure in his youth) to stay home if they can. So, Dad should really being staying home from now until such a time as things drop to Level 1, which is going to slow us further. He’s talking about coming in after we’ve all gone, but I don’t really know how that might work.

People are to work at home where they can at this level, or where that is not possible, to stagger breaks/shifts/work in separate areas (me and my employees can do most of this).

Level 3, would see “alternative ways of working required and some non-essential businesses should close” – we would not close (again, all the reasons I list in the original article below: small business, non-retail/public interacting, only a few people to manage/keep distance, taking it seriously at home by severe social limiting and distancing). We are providing necessities of life (warmth, warm water, cooking) to many of you, especially those building off grid, or very remotely; and those of you needing support and spare parts to keep your pre-existing stove running.

I am at work today, and will be again tomorrow (Sunday), and anticipate sending some of the stoves we have prioritised as most urgent from early next week.

Stay safe everyone.

March 19th, Thursday morning: my children are now staying home from school for the time being. With Janie at home with the little ones anyway, and my family having a background in homeschooling, it is not a burden for us to do so, and seems a sensible precaution against catching even the common cold (or the vomiting bug that has been going around up here), at a time like this when I simply cannot afford to get sick with anything (“Stay home if you feel unwell” – Ministry of Health). We remain busy working on stoves, though none will be shipping out this week. See previous update for reassuring news from Mainfreight.

March 18th, Wednesday evening: some very encouraging news out of Mainfreight (great, global company who are doing a stellar job of keeping us business customers updated very speedily), in terms of ongoing stove deliveries :

Feedback from Mainfreight teams on the ground in those regions where “lockdown” type measures have been introduced in Europe, Asia and the United States, has been that we are able to continue operating much as we normally would. Factories, warehouses, ports and transport providers are largely continuing to produce and distribute goods, albeit with some health–related regulations being applied.

Mainfreight Service Announcement | 18 Mar 2020, 4:25 pm

and a tweak to their home delivery procedures, for your (and their staff’s!) safety:

During our pre-delivery telephone call, we will now be asking receivers questions around their health status and if any household members are in self-isolation. Deliveries to affected properties will be managed on a case-by-case basis.

With all home deliveries, when arriving at a residence, we will knock and then step back, ensuring a 3‑metre distance is in place at all times (or as far as possible in safety).

We will deliver to an agreed location outside of the residence or we will deliver inside the door only.  We will not proceed any further than to have the goods safely inside and allowing the door to operate.

Mainfreight Service Announcement | 18 Mar 2020, 5:20 pm

March 17th, Tuesday afternoon: updated the ‘Personal Note’ section, at the bottom, to provide more explanation around Penelope, my mother/David’s wife, being in voluntarily self-isolation, just as an extra-precaution. Details below.

March 17th, Tuesday morning: original post follows, as things change in terms of Homewood (not going to try keep updating on the global or even national level!), I will put updates above.

Global Situation

Not going to attempt to summarise the global growth of the pandemic in this post, suffice to say things are not good: more and more regions and nations in lockdown each day, overloaded health systems, rising deaths, spreading cases, unprecedented quarantines, cessation of economic and social activity (including school closures), record financial crashes and monetary policy reactions, global travel and logistics disruptions. Things are very much not business as usual right now, as I’m sure you’re aware with how it now dominates the news cycle and social media.

State of NZ

New Zealand was one of the last places in the developed world to have confirmed cases. As such, we are still some number of weeks behind the very extreme scenario currently unfolding in many other places.

We have 8 confirmed cases right now. This weekend just gone, this country has taken stronger border restrictions than ever before, with travel completely banned from some locations, and new arrivals from absolutely anywhere else in the world now requiring to self-isolate for 14 days in attempts to slow the introduction and spread.

Schools are open, for now. I expect this to change in the not-too-distant future, going off other countries that reported first cases earlier than us.

We have banned gatherings of 500+ people. I imagine we will see this number shrink periodically, going on foreign example.

There are no current restrictions on travel or work within NZ, for now. Again, countries that have brought in restrictions on domestic movement and closing non-essential business and industry have done so at higher case counts than where NZ is at currently, so I anticipate it being possible that NZ follows suit at some point, dependant on the spread or acceleration of the disease here. Hopefully, swift decisive action will not see domestic spread reach those levels.

The Ministry of Health maintains regularly updated current guidelines/situation reports.

Hospitality and tourism businesses are massively affected by this. The government is promising an economic stimulus package to be unveiled today (and no doubt already will have, by the time you are reading this), to support the workers and businesses caught in the chaos, and to try mitigate the severity of what is already being called a recession.

Economically, things do not look bright for NZ in general, but nor do they anywhere else in the world, either. The health of our economy relies heavily on international tourism, as well as the exports of primary goods (forestry, meat, dairy, etc), and the import of manufactured goods.

Homewood Business Status

Homewood Stoves is in good shape to navigate something like this, and hopefully more smoothly than most. We are very small, with few employees; we use NZ suppliers; we do not rely on predictable rates of cashflow (unlike the hospitality/tourism sector) for our day-to-day survival. Our pre-existing lead times mean we have stores of materials to continue working with, though my immediate priority right now is securing the next round(s) of extra material and supplies, sooner than I would under more normal circumstances. We do not have shareholder obligations outside of our own family. We do not rely on exports, or the status of a volatile NZD.

I really want to stress here: while this global crisis is certainly going to see disruption to our normal day-to-day operation to at least some degree (it already has), Homewood Stoves is not going anywhere. Like our stoves, this business is built to last. We have been extremely risk adverse while slowly building up our operation, and while it might have seen us pass on some growth opportunities that others may have jumped on, I believe this inherent caution is going to stand us in very good stead over times like these.

What we are doing right now:
– monitoring the situation very closely
– following Ministry of Health guidelines for ourselves, our families and our employees, at a minimum
– paying attention to directives from national and local government
– making all attempts to secure more materials and supplies to be able to continue beyond our normal lead times, in anticipation of possible supply and logistics disruptions in the short to medium term
– asking that people don’t visit the workshop for the time being, unless necessary or pre-arranged. If you need to come see us, please make an appointment, and do not be offended if we avoid shaking hands, or even if we keep wearing our workshop PPE!
– putting a hold on international orders until things stabilise
– making contingencies to enable continued production if there was a forced hiatus period; we will not voluntarily close, and would seek exemptions where possible/relevant
– working flat out, while also doing all the above, to complete Work In Progress stoves for those of you needing them urgently
– staying healthy! Given that people now have to stay home if they have a cold or a flu, none of my small team can afford to get sick (we are already a man-down right now, with a valuable employee off on ACC, unrelated to all this)

While many service-oriented businesses are going to be able to transition into “working from home” as/if needed in the near future, a manufacturing operation like ours is not one of them. While things are still relatively “minor” here in NZ, we are treating this very seriously, taking whatever measures needed to ensure as minimal disruption as possible if things escalate, and beyond.

Current Orders

For those of you with stoves currently underway, things should prove to be largely unaffected, with (hopefully) only minor delays if/as the social situation evolves. With announcements that impact us all being made by the relevant authorities daily (or even more frequently!) now, I will be making no attempts to predict or promise anything over the short term, and really appreciate and thank you for your continued patience.

If you currently have a stove on order, I do apologise for our communication slowing as we deal with extra workload and unanticipated disruption – check back here for updates if you hear national news that you think might influence things. Please refrain from phoning for individual updates, and if you have any queries stick with email so I can respond outside of production hours.

In addition to “regular” manufacturing, we are making efforts to be as resilient as possible going forward, and have obligations to our family and employees to make all necessary preparations in the face of uncertainty. While I normally will request final payment a week or so in advance of anticipated stove completion (so as to smooth over any potential payment delay that could slow shipping), I will not be requesting any final payments unless I am as sure as I can possibly be that we’re able to send out your stove within one working day of receipt.

We are paying attention to Mainfreight updates. We are paying attention to the Ministry of Education, and any expectations of school closures. We are listening to what suppliers are telling us, and being proactive about checking in and chasing up those we are not hearing from.

If the rapidly-unfolding situation changes YOUR personal circumstances as relates to your in-progress stove order, please let me know ASAP. I am acutely aware that for many of you, your stove is not some mere luxury item, but is going to be a central part of the way you live.

Future Orders

IF things continue to increase in severity here in NZ, to the point where family, legal or civic obligations (such as curfews, lockdowns or quarantines as seen internationally, or health and safety requirements) or supplier/logistics disruptions prevent us from coming to work or continuing work, I anticipate that this would force us into putting a temporary halt on accepting new orders and hunker down for as long as required with the rest of the country. This does not mean no more stoves or delivery, but a forced pause (or slowdown, if I was allowed to continue working alone; something I absolutely will do if possible).

This would not be the end of Homewood Stoves, but it would be an extremely frustrating hiatus, right as we head toward winter.

This freeze on new orders would also include those people already on the waiting list, but from whom I have not yet collected a deposit, though your position on the waiting list would be maintained. If we do have to take action this extreme, it means we have been forced to halt or significantly slow putting stoves together for an unknown duration.

While we use NZ suppliers (including NZ foundries), the globally interconnected world we live in means there is no way to escape the reality that many of our suppliers will rely on imported goods or component. Off the top of my head, I believe the insulation, high temperature glass (while it is cut locally), and many of the consumables we rely on – face masks being the most talked about one! – such as grinding discs, come from abroad, and I am sure people (including me) will likely be surprised by shortages of things none of us expect over the coming weeks and months.

VERY IMPORTANT: we are not at this point, and if/when it is reached, I would maintain waiting list positions and still let new people join the list on a less formal “expression of interest”-type basis for when we resume putting stoves together. We just wouldn’t be committing to any specific timing, for obvious reasons. A lot of uncertainty about how this might all go, but we will be sure to make things clear, if and when this sort of drastic measure might become necessary.

International Orders

With nations such as Norway abruptly halting all international flights and even closing ports, there is just too much uncertainty to predict where things might be at, anywhere in the world, even just in the short term future, let alone the medium term.

Therefore, we cannot in good conscience accept orders from outside of NZ for the time being, and regrettably must put on hold any already on our waiting list. While I never expected a situation like this, I am pleased that my policy of not collecting deposits on international orders has proved to be prudent.

If you are relying on a wood burning cooking stove from us as a key component of your security and well-being in the near future, while I really appreciate your international support, I strongly encourage you to (at least temporarily) compromise your vision and secure something locally, perhaps on the second hand market.

If the lack of a Homewood will not majorly impact on your quality of life over this period, you are welcome to still stay on the waiting list (which I will be splitting to NZ/rest-of-world as of today), or let me know if you wish to join, and if a surplus stove becomes available, already built (so not to-order), and everything is lining up in terms of global freight at that point, we will happily still sell and send you one.

I am truly sorry to disappoint, but these are extremely unusual times we find ourselves in.

Existing Customers

Look after your stove, and have it look after you in return!

Polish it regularly, season it. Scrape it out regularly. Buy firewood right now if you don’t already have your winter supply sorted. Run and maintain it correctly; reading the most-up-to-date version of our Operating Manuals.

Still send me an email for anything you may need, but please be patient if needing spare parts like bricks, baffles or glass ropes, etc.

I hope that during these trying times your Homewood is a source of comfort and security, a blessing to you and your family. Stay safe out there!

Personal Note

How this crisis affects our family thus far, separate to Homewood:
Penelope (my mother, David’s wife!) is currently in voluntarily self-isolation, after having had prolonged close contact with an immediate family member who returned to NZ only a few days before these new isolating rules came into effect over the weekend
– neither I, David nor anyone else directly involved in the day-to-day running of the business has been in contact with Penelope since her first exposure with this other family member, nor were we (other than mum) in any contact at all with the family member who actually returned from overseas
– to be clear, this is being done as a voluntary extra-precaution; they had not returned from any of the then-designated high risk areas, nor does anyone involved have any symptoms or anything like that. But if ever there was a time for hyper vigilance, now is it!
– like many of you, we have yet other immediate family still outside of NZ right now, who will be caught up in the new isolation rules for when they are able to return home
– David, though he might not like to think about it, is at an age where he is at higher risk of negative outcome if he were to contract this disease, and he also has a serious underlying lung condition that means he absolutely does not want to get it.

Marketing/public communications/whatever:
I’ve found it difficult to comment on this unfolding situation (and haven’t yet on social media), as any insights I have on the relationship between this crisis and woodstoves will unavoidably come across as grossly self-serving. And even if I did want to capitalise on fear in attempts to sell more stoves, well – we have lead-times and waiting lists anyway, see the above. Expect to hear from me far less anywhere outside of this page, as we go flat out getting sorted, organised and work very hard to get stoves ASAP to those of you relying on them.

More soon – Zak, 17 March 2020