Susie Reid Thomas founded Twilight Trees 6 years ago. Until March, demand for the company's ‘faux-foliage' illuminated trees at parties, weddings, retailers and hotels was unstoppable. Then – Covid. Faced with a collapse in sales, Susie did what great entrepreneurs do – she turned on a sixpence, launching a range of 1m-wide 'Living Spaces’ screens to give businesses a stylish way to build social distance into their premises.
Susie, was there a eureka moment when you thought, "I know how we can beat this crisis …"?
Our first thought, which came from my husband and business partner Andrew and I working together, was 'how can we help businesses in our industry re-open safely but at the same time allow them to keep their premises looking elegant?'
We wondered whether faux trees could be used to separate areas and tables but quickly realised that our 1 metre sq. 'living-walls' would be better, and used them as a prototyping idea.
For practical and clinical reasons, we decided that the faux foliage and botanicals would be better arranged inside a glass box with a clear area at shoulder height so guests could enjoy some privacy but still be able to see what was going on around them and feel part of the overall social experience. As the design began to take shape we thought, "Oh my goodness, this has real potential!"
Can you describe the Living Spaces range a bit?
The range includes printed, as well as higher-end, foliage-filled glass box screens, which are tall and wide enough to prevent coughs and sneezes travelling, but at the same time allow venues and businesses to be front-facing and ready to go at short notice.
They can be used either independently as table, bar and station-separators or in flush-fitting rows and work particularly well for areas like receptions, greeting, dining and entertainment zones.
The screens are made of shatterproof safety glass, allowing for clinical cleaning, whilst giving a premium, non-scratch finish. They have also been designed to be fully recyclable or reused.
Which types of business are they aimed at?
Any business which needs to provide customers, guests and staff with the benefits of clinical safety screens without compromising on design. Hospitality is obviously a big market, but also retail, workplace, beauty salons, hairdressers, barbers and spas.
How long did to take to develop a prototype?
From a 4am idea to the final prototype – 17 days.
Can they be customised?
Absolutely. We offer our own design options, which feature faux-foliage and botanical arrangements. These are popular as they can be updated seasonally with different displays and include LED lights for night-time sparkle and festive cheer.
Alternatively, businesses can have their own bespoke versions. We've recently provided screens featuring individual cocktail recipes like Espresso Martini or Bloody Mary to a large premium drinks company. The've been installed in twenty-six pubs and restaurants across the UK.
The screens can also be used as way-finding systems or simply as beautiful and artful faux-foliage filled glass boxes to enhance an interior space.
What sort of uses can the QR code in the top corner be put to?
The QR codes - which can be coloured and altered to look less robotic and to better reflect the brand - can be used for anything a business wishes and the information is accessed by simply pointing your smart phone at the code.
For example, a restaurant might include food and drinks menus so that they don't need to provide a printed one, which, for safety reasons, would need to be either a wipe-down or disposable version. Or opening times, special offers, future events and brand information. Practically anything a business wishes to communicate. The codes are super easy to generate and print onto the screen.
Is it a rental business model or do you sell the screens outright?
The Living Spaces screens are sold outright. Our artificial trees, which can also be used to separate and zone areas, are available to rent.
Has the hospitality industry responded positively, or is it too shell-shocked to even think about spending money?
To be honest the responses are mixed. With restaurants for example, some do not want to open until further down the line when they have a better understanding of how the public and the industry are reacting. Others have seen this as an opportunity to realign their business and are passionate about ensuring their customers feel confident and welcome.
Most of the businesses we have delivered to were so excited to receive the screens. A good number of them immediately reordered seeing them as an investment beyond the current crisis and adding to the overall interior and atmosphere.
When do you think you will next be supplying your original faux-trees products to big parties and weddings?
We still have two weddings in September booked with brides desperately hoping they will go ahead but it does feel as though the country is beginning to emerge from hibernation as more and more enquires for weddings particularly are coming through. 2021 looks to be a very busy year!
Any lessons that business people should take from the last 4 months?
Working in this industry is such a great experience and a privilege. We're all going through very worrying times but it has been so comforting to see the industry coming together and really supporting each other where possible. It offers reassurance that you're not alone. Added to this, I believe that being adaptable, breaking out of your comfort zone and asking 'what can I do for the industry and others?' is vital if we are going to survive and thrive.
How would you describe your current frame of mind?
I'm a positive person. Forgive the cliché but my glass is always half full. If Andrew and I had sat around and felt sorry for ourselves we wouldn't have got anything done over the past few months. We literally haven't stopped throughout this period. Having said that I'm now ready for a holiday!
Thank you Susie!