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Christmas Reports: Reflections, Austin & Co and Mooch

In the latest of a series, retailers reveal how Christmas trade stacked up for them in the end, what performed well as well as their respective hunches for 2022.

Today, PG Buzz hears from Philip Nield, co-owner of Reflections, Nantwich and Rugeley; Sean Austin, owner of Austin & Co, Malvern and Jon May, co-owner of Mooch, Bewdley and Stourport on Severn.

Above: Philip and Maxine Nield, co-owners of Reflections.
Above: Philip and Maxine Nield, co-owners of Reflections.

Philip Nield, co-owner of Reflections, Nantwich and Rugeley

Verdict: “Way above our expectations.”

Spill the beans: “Our sales were significantly up – strong double digit growth – in both stores. The ‘shop local’ feel worked in our favour, with customers appreciating what they have close to home, though I do feel for my retail colleagues who have shops in city and large town centres.”

Your strategy: “We put our displays out earlier than usual, starting at the beginning of September with a fairly large selection and then expanded this later in October.”

Above: Reflections did very well with premium products.
Above: Reflections did very well with premium products.

Customer buying patterns: “We saw a shift in more customers seeking out higher priced specialist captioned cards. Price was not an issue, with people happily paying £6 or £7 for a husband/wife card. For the first time in years, we actually sold out of wife and husband cards, and we were very well stocked with them.”

Top performers: “On singles, our top performers were from UKG, IC&G, Paper Rose, Cardigan Cards and Second Nature’s Champagne range.

On boxed cards, it was all about the top end – the further we move away from the discounters, the better!  The Art File, which was new to us, performed incredibly well. We sold out of its £10 boxes. Woodmansterne also sold well as did UKG’s Special Editions and Nigel Quiney.

On giftwrap, again The Art File was superb, we sold out!”

Above: Part of the giftwrap display in Reflections.
Above: Part of the giftwrap display in Reflections.

Your hunch and approach for 2022: “I am feeling quietly confident and enthusiastic about the coming year.”

Above: The inventive upcycled ‘out of this world’ Christmas window display in Austin & Co.
Above: The inventive upcycled ‘out of this world’ Christmas window display in Austin & Co.

Sean Austin, owner of Austin & Co, Malvern

Verdict: “Stupendous!”

Spill the beans: “Cards performed on a par with the same period in 2019, which is a massive result when compared to 2020 when the Christmas card buying period was squeezed by the second lockdown in November 2020.”

Your strategy: “With hindsight I wish I had gone out a little earlier with our Christmas displays. In a normal trading year, I always liked to be an oasis on the High Street by not thrusting Christmas onto my customers as soon as we pass the August Bank Holiday. But times are a changing and even among independents, it now appears to be a case of ‘who blinks first’. Together with increased competition from the supermarkets, such as Waitrose and Sainsbury’s (who have really curated an excellent offer), I feel I will have to go earlier in 2022 and take those “it’s too early” comments on the chin and hope they’re outweighed by people actually buying Christmas in September.”

Above: Sean Austin in Santa mode, delivering cards to the local Age UK charity that had been written by Austin & Co customers as part of the shop’s Thinking of You at Christmas initiative.
Above: Sean Austin in Santa mode, delivering cards to the local Age UK charity that had been written by Austin & Co customers as part of the shop’s Thinking of You at Christmas initiative.

Customer buying patterns: “There are always ‘early adopters’ and those who are governed by Royal Mail’s last posting dates. Mid to end of November was particularly strong as Christmas displays became more evident. Malvern turn its lights on particularly late compared to other towns so there may be an argument to make the town feel a bit more festive earlier.”

Top performers: “Christmas card packs performed very well. In particular, Artbeat charity packs (by Art Marketing) which were at a great price point (below £4). They have been a staple for my 11 Christmases and they always sell through. On single cards, ranges by Cinnamon Aitch, Emily Nash, This is Folio, and Bewilderbeest performed very strongly (the ‘3 French Hens’ card by Bewilderbeest was my best selling card); as did unique ranges of local Malvern Christmas cards – people do like local.”

Above: Some Bewilderbeest cards that performed very well in Austin & Co.
Above: Some Bewilderbeest cards that performed very well in Austin & Co.

A sustainable Christmas: “All of our wrap was recycled and was 100% recyclable. It was very much in customers’ minds, but more signposting may be needed on POS. Suppliers need to shout out more on their labelling rather than leave the message in the tiniest of fonts. The star of wrap sales was the recyclable kraft tape by Eco Boy. Many customers are quick to buy the paper, but don’t think of the sticky tape they are going to use. We sold out of Eco Boy’s innovative product, despite it being priced as a premium product.”

Your hunch and approach for 2022: “We ended 2021 not knowing what the hell was going on. Four weeks previously, when we didn’t even realise Omicron was in the Greek alphabet, I was extremely confident. It’s waned a little, but it just goes to show that it’s not a time to go completely crazy and spend, spend, spend. Inflation, wages frozen, tax increases, cost of utilities …just some of the pressures on our customers that are looming in 2022. Will the disposable income be there? And will it be a case that customers will be looking at that card for under £2.50 rather than the one for £3.95? I’ve always been a cautious buyer. If I was less cautious, I would either have a chain of six shops or be a bankrupt. I’m happy with where I’m at after the past two years of turmoil and |I’ll be happy if I progress at the same rate through the next two years.

As for my buying approach for the coming Christmas buying, I think small and more unique is beautiful and that has been borne out by the winners that sold in 2021. For 2022 I will be looking for more of the new and taking more punts on new designers to the market, rather than going to a ‘one stop shop’ for all of Christmas in ‘one box’. Admittedly this approach takes a bit more work and research, especially when sourcing local cards, but I’m up for it. So glad that trade shows are back; my time this year will be spent on developing the collection rather than just trying to save the business.”

Above: A Mooch Christmas window.
Above: A Mooch Christmas window.

Jon May, co-owner of Mooch Gifts and Home, Bewdley and Stourport on Severn

Verdict? “On par.”

Spill the beans: “We ended up on a par saleswise with previous years although while singles sales remained strong, pack sales were down probably as more folk were working from home so gave fewer to work colleagues.”

Your strategy: “All our cards went on sale online first and we found this better for folk who preferred to mooch our selection at home then do Click & Collect. Some of our collections were delayed launching in store due to supplier stock issues.”

Customer buying patterns: “We found card sales were much later with even packs still being purchased on Christmas Eve! In fact, our busiest sales were on 23 and 24 December.”

Top performers: “Single cards sold well for us. Paper Salad’s new Jumbo Hunky Dory range was our star performer.”

A sustainable Christmas: “Yes more so for giftwrap than cards however.”

Above: Jon May and Winston.
Above: Jon May and Winston.

Your strategy: “We will keep things very similar as hopefully we will get back to a more normal way of work with footfall and buying habits as people return to work in offices etc.”

Your hunch and approach for 2022: “We are feeling positive about 2022 but are fearing more price increases will impact on customer spend in the coming year. Let’s hope shipping rates decrease and those suppliers who said they will reduce prices back down are true to their word.”

Top: Part of the Christmas counter card display in Reflections.

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