At the first ever PG Buzz Zoom Meeting, which took place yesterday (April 8), Karen Hubbard, ceo of Card Factory, John Procter, md of Scribbler, Paul Taylor, md of Cardzone, Mark Janson-Smith, md of Postmark put their competitive positions to one side and spoke openly about how they are dealing with life and business in this Covid-19 dominated world.
At the Zoom conference meeting, hosted by PG Buzz and also attended by Amanda Fergusson, ceo of the GCA, the retailers shared their views on the support the Government is giving to retailers, what is the ‘fair’ approach towards paying rent to landlords and suppliers during the lockdown, their hunches as to what the new ‘normal’ look like when retail opens up again and how will it impact on greeting card buying.
With the first wave of £10,000 and £25,000 grants arriving with retailers over the last few days, on top of the rates 12 month ‘holiday’ and furloughing schemes all participants agreed that the Government should be commended for the support they have shown to retailers.
“Prioritising rates first in granting a 12-month holiday was a great start followed by the furloughing scheme. I still think though there is a lack of clarity from the banking side on the Covid-19 Business Interruption Loans,” stated Karen Hubbard.
However, the jury is still out on the thorny issue of rents with on what is a realistic and “fair” approach.
As Paul Taylor pointed out: “Only 40% of all retailers have paid their rents for the first quarter with 60% not having done so.” While Cardzone and Postmark have paid their rent bills for the first quarter, Scribbler is among many who are sitting tight in the hope that landlords will accept a cancellation, massive reduction or long deferral.
“I am part of a collective of 100 retailers who are pushing for this quarter’s rent to be cancelled which will enable most of us to keep going until we re-open,” says John.
Keeping the money flowing through to suppliers was something Paul and Mark were keen to stress.
“I am up to date with paying suppliers, many of whom are very small businesses so I want to help them out if I can,” revealed Mark.
“We have agreed to pay all our suppliers,” said Paul, the only exception being seasonal lines. “With Mother’s Day well down, Easter not happening and a question mark over Father’s Day we have talked to suppliers about ‘parking’ those amounts,” adds Paul.
As Karen prompted what the new retailing landscape will it look like in the new normal. “There will be changes. Will people want to go to shopping centres? Social distancing will have had an effect.”
Acknowledging the surge in online card sales – with Scribbler.com’s sales up over five fold, as an example, Paul wonders whether this will hold even once the shops are up and running. “I do think we could see the percentage of cards bought online go up to 10%,” he suggests.
Mark, who is still trading online believes that the consumer will welcome a return to the high street, but may well “favour local high streets than major shopping centres”.
When asked if they felt any good things will come out of this challenging period, everyone had an answer.
“Christmas will be bigger than ever,” believes Karen. “People have missed Easter and will look forward to the next big opportunity to re-connect.”
As John highlighted “relationships and communication” will be stronger when we come out ‘the other side’. Agreeing, Paul said how he has been heartened to learn of how his furloughed staff have remained in close contact with each other by setting up WhatsApp group, all looking out for each other.
For Mark, it is the “feeling of being part of a community” that he thinks will live on both in business and our personal lives.
Ending the meeting on a high, Karen and Amanda both highlighted how the true value of sending and receiving greeting cards has really come to the fore during these unprecedented times as reflected in the stories featured on the GCA’s Thinking of You Week site and on PG Buzz over the last month.
“I am hopeful that the greeting card industry in the UK will come out stronger than ever as consumers will want to share how they really feel and they will do that with a card.”
More PG Buzz Zoom Meetings are being organised for the coming weeks.