Indies getting ready for next week’s reopening told us what lessons have been learned from the last year and what has been selling online over lockdown.
Rachael Simpson-Jones spoke to a selection of indies who have been forced to adapt their businesses over the recent succession of retail lockdowns. We found out just how they are getting ready for next week’s reopening, what lines have kept sales ticking over and what changes the pandemic has prompted them to make going forwards.
Lisa Dyson, of Games Crusade in Harrogate says she has simply continued to do what she does best; namely being as helpful as possible. As well as delivering online orders locally and also mailing them further afield, staff have continued to offer product advice and recommendations. “This has temporarily replaced our usual customer service while in-store,” Lisa told us. “We’ve been busy replying with information that customers have hopefully found useful.”
Sales of puzzles shows no signs of waning, says Lisa, so she has ensured the store is well stocked up for next week, with a product mix that reflects the shifting demographic of puzzle buyers. An expanded pocket money range will also cater to children keen to spend funds they have been saving. Over lockdown, in-store board game demos have been replaced by online reviews and pictures on social media, another initiative that has shown a demonstrable uplift in orders. However, Lisa can’t wait to welcome customers back in store to be able to see and touch board games in person.
Bill Bulstrode, who owns Framlingham Toy Shop has also risen to the challenges presented by the pandemic, establishing an online storefront and an increased social media presence. ” Our activity on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter has been a learning curve, but it’s given the business great free exposure, both locally and nationally,” he explained.
Bill is planning promotions for its reopening, to tempt customers and move through some older stock, howver, bringing in new stock has presented more obstacles. “I reckon that’s down to a combination of Brexit and the issues with shipping that Toy World has been reporting on,” he adds. “Many delivery dates are up in the air.” However, creative thinking, in the form of sharing information and working together with other toyshops, as well as taking advantage of his Toymaster membership, has meant that Bill has been able to secure much of the stock he needs. “A collaborative approach not only ensures that we have what we need, but that our customers have what they want, and keeps everyone happy,” he tells us.
Andrew Olley of City Cycle Centre in Ely (which has an extensive toy department), has offered click & collect and free local delivery services to his customers, also keeping in touch with them on social media, which he describes as “a godsend for keeping lines of communication open.” The store’s stock profile is adapting from the key items that have been selling in high numbers over the past few months, such as Lego and puzzles, to lines better suited for ranging in-store and benefiting from being displayed. Andrew feels that people are desperate to get back to shopping in physical stores, particularly children. “There’s a big desire to shop local combined with pent up demand and money to be spent. Toy shops have always been, and will always be, exciting places to visit,” he concludes.
Bill agrees: “Consumers want to get out and get shopping, so it’s up to us as retailers to make our shops safe and inviting,” he says. “We’re not out of the woods yet, but we’re definitely going in the right direction.”
Like all shop owners that have been forced to close, these three indies can’t wait to welcome back customers. But they feel lessons have been learnt over lockdown. “Just because one avenue is closed it doesn’t mean you can’t find other ways around them,” says Lisa Dyson. “I’ve been forced to take the initiative, and I’m glad I did.”
To read the full Talking Shop feature in much more detail, see the April edition of Toy World here.