Rachael Simpson-Jones spoke to independent retailers to find out how they have been coping over the latest lockdown and how they have been getting ready for reopening.
When Rachael caught up with Dan Lovett, of Beccles Toy Box; Lee Borastero, of Kids Stuff Wells and Louise Anderson of John Anderson Toymaster, the ‘roadmap’ out of lockdown and retail reopening dates had yet to be announced, however everyone was looking forward to welcoming customers back into their shops.
Dan Lovett explained that sales over lockdown were mostly being driven through the shop’s social media pages, primarily Instagram and Facebook, and confessed he has become a convert to the platforms he used to disparage: “We’ve been doing this for the past two months, and it’s been working really well for us – the social media strategy is keeping things ticking over nicely without over-facing anyone.” He believes the key to selling this way is to be selective about the products highlighted. “For an indie, social is a great tool, and I find it can offer a more personal service than ordering through a website,” he added.
Beccles Toy Box has also found that collaboration with other like-minded retailers can be a very useful way to cope with the challenges presented by the pandemic; in some cases, Dan has been able to pool resources with local contacts to secure the right stock at the right time.
Although he would have been delighted to reopen at Easter, Dan had more realistically set his sights on a later reopening, and is optimistic about the spring and summer tourist season. “Last summer, we saw exceptional sales. We’re in quite a touristy area, so we get plenty of visitors and the local caravan parks are all fully booked for this year. In 2020, we saw more holidaymakers than ever; many that came into the shop said they’d be back the following year.”
Setting up a website and operating a click and collect service is something Lee Borastero has also introduced at Kids Stuff. Despite making enough sales to cover expenses, he still pines for serving his customers face to face: “I want to see my customers smiling at me when I take their money for their exciting new purchase (masks notwithstanding)! However, setting up the site is something we needed to do to keep business ticking over.”
Lee and his wife Sarah are grateful that they had a strong Christmas, which has served to tide the business over until it is able to reopen. They have used the quieter times since then to undertake minor improvements to the shop, ready for that day.
Although John Anderson Toymaster, based in Whitby, has continued to serve its local customers via its website, the business relies heavily on tourists that have been sadly lacking due to lockdown restrictions.
Louise Anderson has been busy placing orders ready for when she reopens, and is also looking forward to the summer months: “People assume Christmas must be our busiest time, but here in Whitby that’s not the case. The town is overflowing with visitors in the summer, and if I want to sell a £165 Lego set, that’s when I’ll do it,” she told us. “We’re hopeful for a really strong summer like last year. After the first lockdown ended, our sales were way up; everyone was so delighted to be out and spending money.”
All three retailers simply can’t wait to open their doors again. “Being forced to close the store feels like I’ve let my local customers down,” confessed Louise. “I see my local regulars around town and they all say they’re looking forward to coming back. My staff are brimming with ideas on enticing shoppers back through the doors once we reopen. I’m looking forward to seeing them again just as much as the customers.”
Lee agrees: “Our customers are ready to come back to us now, especially the kids. They’ve essentially not been in the shop for a year, and it’ll be such an experience when we can welcome them back.”
To read the Talking Shop feature in its entirety, where the retailers above go into more detail about how they have coped and what has been selling, see our March issue or click here.