With fire in their bellies and eager to hear the sights and sounds of customers back in their brick and mortar stores, the excitement is really hotting up as many card and gift retailers gear up and prepare to throw open their shop doors on April 12 (April 26 in Scotland), the dates when the government’s Covid 19 restrictions are eased for non-essential retail businesses.
Gale Astley, with over 17 years in the greetings industry, and a promo filmmaker, discovers how the Corona lockdowns have highlighted retailers’ resilience, ingenuity and commitment to good customer service, and what shop owners are looking forward to most when their stores open again.
How we’ve missed riffling through the card racks and perusing gorgeous gift displays during Covid-19 lockdowns 1, 2 and 3! Under the UK’s third Corona pandemic lockdown, non-essential shops have been closed since January 5th, and unfortunately this has included greeting card and gift shops, both independents and multiples and department stores, having to pull down their shop’s shutters to customers for over three months.
However, there is a huge glimpse of hope on the retail horizon as non-essential retail shops are set to reopen on April 12 – with the flexibility of longer daily opening hours – as part of a gradual easing of England, Wales and Northern Ireland’s lockdown restrictions. Whilst some non-essential stores with homewares reopened in Scotland on April 5, most Scottish shops will be allowed to fling open their doors on April 26 … and what a welcome all retailers’ customers around the UK will receive! Having been sorely missed.
The air of excitement is mounting in the retail ranks. Card and gift retailers in all corners of Britain are dusting down their tills and sprucing up the card racks, refreshing stock, maybe even having a refurb or opening a new store or two!
“Not only are we doing the necessary to tidy the place up (we have boxes all over the shop floor to make web order packing easier!), we are really diving into our stock selection and stopping some lines – whilst picking up some new suppliers. We want the shop’s opening to feel really fresh! The front of the shop will be getting a facelift, and oh, there’s our brand new, completely overhauled website!” reveals Paul Jarman, director of Creased Cards, Brighton.
Running her Stationery Supplies shop in Marple for the last 15 years has been a full-time job, so owner Sarah Laker (pictured above) never dreamt she’d have the courage and belief to take on a second shop in Wilmslow during a pandemic: “Employing my daughter to help me has not only made Stationery Supplies into an independent chain (two shops make a chain, right?) but also into a proper family-run business,” says Sarah. And so, in both Stationery Supplies stores, ‘Operation Clean-up’ is in progress. “I’m cleaning, rearranging and putting out new gift and card ranges so my customers have something exciting to see when we re-open,” she says.
Sally Matson, owner of Red Card in Petworth, also took on a new shop premises during Covid lockdown 3. With the move expanding Red Card’s floorspace, Sally explains, “With 12 weeks of lockdown to go, new premises twice the size of the current shop became available – so we decided to go for it! Our preparations for April 12 have involved totally refurbishing a property, purchasing stock for a shop twice as big, and then pricing and merchandising everything!”
In Scotland, Papyrus in Glasgow, is not only a wonderland of cards and gifts but also has a Basement Cookshop and was able to open on April 5. “The Cookshop occupies slightly larger retail space than our card and gift shop on the ground level, so we have been very fortunate to open 3 weeks earlier,” reveals director, Fiona Fabien.
Leading up to Monday April 5, Fiona was busy merchandising her new stock and getting the shop looking it’s best for opening. “We used our time productively during the latest lockdown. We have refurbished and painted the exterior façade, and lockdown has allowed us to paint the internal shop, staff areas and store, difficult to do when you normally trade seven days a week. And, we have had time to focus on our online presence and social media, resulting in a much-improved performance, which we will work to maintain and build on,” Fiona adds.
For Carl Dunne, owner of Cards & Gifts, Sheffield, his Chapel Walk store has been closed during Covid lockdowns, but even with the April 12 easing of restrictions Carl is concerned about how long he can keep open his Sheffield City store’s doors as it relies heavy on office workers and high street multiples such as M&S and John Lewis for extra footfall.
“John Lewis has recently announced that its Sheffield store is going to permanently close, and Government has stated that office workers are not returning till June, these are very worrying times as I feel there just won’t be enough customers on the streets,” states Carl.
All this said, Carl is not giving up and has even expanded his shop portfolio. “I’m busy right now getting new stock bought to make the store look fresh for when I hope customers come back to us. You may be asking why new stock if I have been closed? Well, last June I opened store No.2 in Dronfield, Derbyshire, selling newspapers as well as cards, so I was lucky that this store could stay open. To say I have been busy is a huge understatement! I have robbed all the stock from the closed Sheffield City store and I have still had to order thousands of £pounds of stock every month.
Then, only six weeks ago, I took on shop No.3, right next door to shop No.2, as a convenience shop, and I sell greeting cards in this store too. So, for me, I have to thank covid as I’ve gone from one store to three in a year… although my heart goes out to all those shops that have had to close and I know they are suffering.”
Necessity is the mother of invention – Many retailers have been adapting and discovering alternative ways of reaching their customers through the periods of lockdown. Gale Astley picks up the story again here.