Welcome back to looking forward
Lisa Currie caught up with independent retailers to find out how business is faring since stores have reopened, what’s selling well and what plans are being made for the rest of the year.
Lisa Dyson - Games Crusade, Harrogate We put all the safety measures in place before we reopened, and since then we have ticked along steadily. The customers who have come into the shop have all bought something, however we have not experienced the footfall numbers and casual browsing that we would normally. We are an interactive shop and usually have a lot of instore demonstrations and opportunities for customers to try out products. This often resulted in extra sales, since parents could see what their children enjoyed playing with or could have a go themselves before they buy. Of course, we have had to remove those, which means customers don’t get the same level of interaction as before. They have to rely on our expertise and advice. The town has been quiet; I think the biggest issue for many people is that, early on at least, they didn’t have access to public toilets and restaurant facilities. Consequently, people are coming out for short periods of time and we have often found that our busiest hour is between 3pm and 4pm. I do wonder if most people are thinking it’s easier to have lunch and use their own toilets at home, before coming out for an hour or two in the afternoon. I offered local delivery and online sales during lockdown and my customers have been really appreciative of that. They have been eager to come and show support in the shop now that we are open once more, which has been really encouraging and morale boosting. I think there has been concern that some shops may have to close permanently, and local people are keen to support local businesses as best they can. In return, we can offer a high level of personal attention to each customer. Jigsaws were a best-seller all throughout lockdown and even though people have a bit more freedom to be out of the house, there still seems to be demand for jigsaws and puzzles. Asmodee very kindly sent some complimentary games to help businesses reopen, which I decided to use in a free raffle. We are still offering local and postal deliveries, and anyone that had bought a game from us either in store or online was entered into the draw with a raffle ticket for every game purchased, meaning five games, for examples, equals five entries. Winners received a mystery boardgame which we gift-wrapped for a surprise factor. I have tried my best during lockdown to continue offer a service to our customers, despite having had no staff and the shop doors being closed, and I am grateful that people have decided to continue to support us now the physical shop is back open, whether online or in store.
Paul Wohl - Argosy Toys, Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex Footfall is down but sales are up, since most customers coming into the shop are spending. We are still finding that a lot of people don’t realise we are open yet, with many checking to see if they are allowed in! However, once they are in, they seem happy to spend. There are very few people coming in to browse; given the situation, customers want to make a shopping expedition worthwhile, so they visit us with a purpose, and are not just browsing for something to do. On the whole, there has been nothing too surprising since reopening. It is certainly a very interesting time in terms of what’s selling – and what’s not. I have noticed that a lot of the crazes seem to have died down. Before lockdown, we were experiencing good sales of Pokémon and L.O.L. Surprise! However, children aren’t getting together as much to show each other what they have got, so playground crazes haven’t been as popular. Some people are still getting used to the idea of coming out and we are still experiencing encouraging trade with our delivery service as a result. As soon as lockdown started, we began offering local delivery and will continue to do so for now. Our mail order side increased massively during lockdown, although since reopening it has settled slightly. Ultimately the current climate is an unprecedented one – during the week we have times where there are no customers for a while and then we have one or two customers who spend well and make it all worthwhile. Since reopening, Lego has been very strong, as well as puzzles for children and adults, Sylvanian Families, boardgames and dolls. Anything outdoor has sold well, helped by the particularly brilliant spell of weather just when we reopened. What’s noticeable is that more people now are seeking good value for money, rather than a five-minute wonder. This suits me very well; it’s the kind of toy shop I have always strived to be, rather than being all about the latest crazes. We were very busy for the first six weeks of lockdown, but gradually we got quieter and decided to make the most of the down time. For a while now, we have been talking about reopening the first floor, which was closed a long time ago to be used as a stock room, as retail space. Lockdown has given us the opportunity to do that. My helpful staff and I took walls out, took down warehouse racking and cleaned the whole space. We opened the first floor to customers on Wednesday 24th June and it has been a great success, with the following weekend being very busy. We have gone from 2,000 square foot to 3,200 square foot, so now we’ve got more space for customers, as well as stock.
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