A super-charged vitamin concoction of spot-on philosophy, rich wisdom and infectious laughter, Jenny Cummins, managing director of Sydney-based greeting card distributor McMillan Cards, has provided vital soul ‘food’ and direction for the many UK card companies she represents over the last year (and the years prior). Here, Jenny files her Oz report of greeting card life Down Under with the underlying message being that she misses her UK mates!
Over to you Jenny…
The here and now: “I have (sadly) replaced exploring trade fairs and chatting with lovely people with a super new computer screen so I can actually see things clearly without guessing too much. But this is a solitary exercise and I am not enjoying it. In fact, my shoulder is inflamed and painful from working the mouse! I am so missing the back and forth (Oz to UK) to see my suppliers. I so look forward to getting back to ‘normal’, maybe even escaping the office regularly again and flying out, but the trouble is none of us know what ‘normal’ is anymore?! Our routines have changed hugely.
People are going nuts for Easter napkins. The big thing here for Easter as we head into winter is food – chocolate and hot cross buns!”
The retail scene: “Despite Australia being in such a good place when compared to the rest of the world, business generally is patchy and unpredictable.
It is rocket-fuelled in some areas of the market (Sydney real estate prices are going nuts) and painfully slow in others. City CBDs (Central Business Districts) are still very quiet, these are the areas suffering the most.
All retail in Oz has been open for some weeks now since hard lockdown eased. Even during hard lockdown our newsagents could open as they were deemed as offering an essential service, which kept many of the card suppliers going, especially in Melbourne, which was locked down for much longer than in other states.
Echoing a pattern that is also the case in the UK, we are all shopping local. This means retail is facing big change, but for some a very positive one. However, the multiples will need to adapt or continue to close.”
Life changes: “Many people, but not all, have now returned to work in the big office buildings although the roads are manic with lots of people avoiding using public transport. Our schools have been open all year, but parents are driving their kids and so add to the traffic.
Our vast country areas have been unaffected directly by Covid but there is a resistance to travel to the main cities. Some country towns are swamped by city dwellers getting away for short breaks. Lots of people are giving up our concentrated big city life and seeking a country/beachside tree change…who would blame them?! So sensible when your job allows you to work from home!
Behaviours have definitely altered and there is a social reset going on. But now the benefits and pitfalls of working from home are being widely discussed. Almost as widely as ‘that interview’…
Huge sums of money are spent annually on travel outside Australia, but our international borders are still restricted, so those $$$s are being diverted back into improving and updating homes, buying new ones, improving our tech and kitchen equipment. It varies state to state but restaurants generally are still restricted that is almost over, but we have become used to eating at home/enjoying dinner or lunch parties again within the allowed numbers. It will take time for these new habits to change.”
Industry isues: “We are doing battle royal trying to gain greater acceptance of uncellowrapped cards. It’s not the public that is the challenge, they appreciate the point. However the biggest of our independent retailers are refusing them with all the normal excuses – customers nicking envelopes, card corners being trashed, an inability to deal with dust. It’s such as shame as the board of the unwrapped cards is especially chosen to resist all this and feels great – like Belly Button, Proper Mail, James Ellis, Toasted Crumpet NT – and some are even are made from recycled cups.
We made the case, but in many cases are having to bag the cards before supplying to the retailer which is difficult. Some mindsets have not moved on at all, but I think as they are faced with losing more really excellent ranges they will have to accept it. Patience, I am told, is a virtue!”
Life at McMillan: “The McMillan travel budget has been diverted to what has turned into a major renovation with a rebuild of our office kitchen and bathrooms – which is pretty exciting after 13 years of using a space the size of a loo.
Business for us? McMillan is doing well, really well…especially if I only compare it to last year haha.
I am really pleased with our own website sales. They are solid and growing. Yes, that market generally is growing as a convenience but also there are a lot of people who do not want exposure to others especially in our shopping centres and supermarkets as evidenced in the massive increase in home delivery of groceries.
A big glass of wine cheers of thanks for the huge assistance I have received from our staff, friends and suppliers and even our freight forwarders. We have learnt to move stock in any way available to get it here and are finally on top of our inventories and working on getting ahead of them to offset the shipping delays.
The agents are moving about freely again, several brave dedicated souls continued to work during the worst months of 2020 by getting Government permits.
Full marks to our UK publisher suppliers who have never stopped creating. There is so much gorgeous new product and it is always a lovely surprise when we see it all in reality when a delivery arrives.
I take a ‘brave pill’ each morning and work through all the unknown things which keep cropping up prompting lots of ‘on-the-spot’ decision making.
We are in a good place, just a different place – and I so miss my UK friends!”
Top: Jenny Cummins, managing director of McMillan is missing her UK mates.