21 for ’21: Annieglass adapts to the perils of manufacturing in a pandemic
Ann Morhauser of Annieglass was overseeing a small luxury manufacturing business with a national market and a local tourist destination at its Watsonville site. The former survived. The latter may have to wait until the pandemic passes.
For many entrepreneurs, the rollercoaster ride of 2020 has dipped and dived into some confounding and bewildering places. Is it possible, for instance, to go from running a long-standing luxury-goods shop churning out tens of thousands of high-end artisanal products to high-profile clients across the country to applying for unemployment in the space of a few weeks?
Yes, it is. Just ask Ann Morhauser.
She is the founder and namesake of the celebrated fine-art manufacturer and distributor Annieglass, which creates beautiful hand-made glass plates, platters, bowls, and other artifacts from her small factory in Watsonville, a company she’s built over the course of 36 years.
But last spring, as revenues at Annieglass plunged toward zero, the company’s employees found themselves grappling with California’s suddenly overburdened unemployment machinery — including Morhauser herself.
“After almost 40 years in business, I didn’t even know how to (apply),” she said. “I had to ask other people how to do it. I kept getting kicked out: ‘What was your last job?’ Uh, I don’t know. Waitress at Upper Crust Pizza?”
Lookout's 21 for '21
EDITOR’S NOTE: We’re profiling 21 individuals who made a difference in pandemic-and-wildfire-ravaged Santa Cruz County in 2020 — and how they’re looking toward recovery in 2021. Have suggestions about others we should pick? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Annieglass occupies a unique space in the county’s economy, as a business operating in a national wholesale market while also maintaining a local focus as a tourist destination with a retail store, tours, and art classes, all from its sky-blue building just off West Riverside Drive in Watsonville. The tours and art classes are on the shelf now — though the gift shop remains open.
As one of the most well-known small manufacturers in Santa Cruz County, Annieglass has had to deal with the pandemic from the factory floor. Over the course of the past few years, Annieglass has grown, opening new wholesale showrooms in New York and Atlanta, and business, through such high-end retailers as Bloomingdale’s and Nieman Marcus, was burgeoning.
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Even when shelter-in-place orders were being issued in California, the company was still doing a brisk business in parts of the country that were not shut down. With less than a dozen people working in its 16,000-square-foot building, distancing was not a problem either.
But as the pandemic widened, the economic winds shifted. A big client announced it would be delaying its payments. Bills came due for big shipments of material. Showrooms in other parts of the countries were closed.
In short order, Annieglass closed everything — its factory, kilns, retail shop — and stayed closed for two months. A third of the company’s employees were laid off. The rest, including Morhauser herself, were stuck in limbo.
Morhauser’s response was to make a pivot to on-line wholesale with help from PPP loans and business assistance from non-profits. As the year draws to a close, Morhauser is guardedly optimistic that her company has rebounded at least to most of its original capacity.
“We make all our money at the end of year,” she said, adding that she hopes to reach a level of about 20 percent below revenue from last year, which she would consider a victory.
As for 2021, Morhauser plans to return to the local aspect of her business only once the pandemic has crested, with a return to the classes and tours some time in the indefinite future.
If anything, the year has taught her that in the interplay between business and art, business still runs the show. “Fear is a fabulous motivator,” she said. “People always ask me, ‘What’s your inspiration?’ Well, it’s making payroll.”
Santa Cruz Salutes: Shoutout someone doing good things for the community
The Santa Cruz community comes together in hard times, which was especially evident in 2020. Do you know of someone who volunteered, donated, or helped the community in some way this year? To give someone a Santa Cruz Salute, fill out the form below with a photo of them and a short description to describe how they are trying to make the community better.