None of us will ever forget this period and the upheaval it has caused to our personal and business lives; from our mental wellbeing to our financial situation. While ‘it’ is not over, with lockdown easing by the day, thoughts can turn to what the ‘new normal’ may look like.
Wendy and Steve Jones-Blackett, co-owners of Yorkshire-based card publishing business Wendy Jones-Blackett, celebrate the re-opening of card and gift shops while sharing a glimpse into their lockdown life.
Wendy and Steve J-B are incredibly popular members of the greeting card community, not just for the lovely ranges they create, but their whole approach to life and business. Never ones to blow their own trumpet, on a PG Buzz Zoom Meet-up they let slip that they have paid their agents upfront during lockdown, recognising that they would not be in a position to generate income otherwise. Moreover, they also regularly rescue swans. The two previous sentences are not connected!
Appetite whetted? Read on for more revelations…
Lockdown’s easing, how do you feel? “Indies we’re in touch with suggest they have had a fantastic first week back, which is great. From customers we have heard from, footfall was down, but average spend was way up. One of our local gift shops said they were taking as little as £40 a day before lockdown, whereas last week’s takings were akin to pre-Christmas, averaging around £300 per day, which is amazingly positive.
With nobody away on holiday or likely to go overseas for some time, people working from home and the kids off school hopefully the shops in the towns and suburbs will continue to have a captive audience throughout the summer.”
What’s your life in lockdown been like? “We’ve been juggling jobs we haven’t had to do for 15 years – picking orders, arranging couriers, making the handmade cards, working out the furloughing details, accounts, brokerage and customer services! Add in home schooling/keeping everyone fed and you get the picture. Thank goodness for a nice glass of wine on an evening!”
What has been the worst thing about it? “The first month was very stressful for everyone; we had no idea exactly how bad we were going to be hit as a country. However, worrying about friends and family getting sick has definitely been the worst part.”
What has been the best thing about it? “We have enjoyed working from home very much. Being at home and spending time as a family has been great. Spring is a gorgeous time of year so we’ve done lots of dog walking and working in the garden.”
How are you approaching the loosening of the lockdown? “We brought a second member of staff out of furlough yesterday and brought them back to work yesterday. This will free up more time and I (Wendy) might get back to designing at some point rather than filling out spreadsheets, booking couriers, answering emails and picking orders – at least it’s kept our minds focused! We will unfurlough more staff as we need them, depending on orders coming in – this is new territory for all of us. Planning for Christmas has had to be based on guesswork rather than actual orders so we’ve no idea yet if we’ll have stock left over or will run out by October. We are cautiously optimistic though!”
What role do you think greeting cards have played during this period? “The sending of cards has been SO important! Sending cards nationally has increased but it’s where people have got their cards from when the shops were shut has been the burning question. We decided early on not to sell direct to the public as it’s not our forte and we would have had to keep staff at the office to keep this going, as well as invest in a new website. Luckily, a lot of our customers had an online presence and they’ve seen a huge increase in traffic on this front. Social media has been great in enabling shops to sell cards and we foresee the Facebook Store as going to be huge as payments can be taken digitally too.”
Do you have any new-found skills/guilty pleasures? “Star Wars!!! Wow, who knew? We rationed ourselves to watching an hour per night with youngest son. The early ones have been remastered and look phenomenal! Loved them all. Kylo Ren and Rae are worthy characters to rival Vader and Luke!
A skill we need to work on, however is hair dying. Nobody needs to know we dyed our son’s hair blue as well as half the bathroom do they?!”
What do you think the new normal will be like in the coming months for our sector – the key challenges and opportunities? “Challenges will be footfall-based, opportunities will be in working-from-home based customers for shops. The jury is out on city centres. Greeting cards will thrive but how and where they are purchased will be the big question.”
Top: Wendy Jones-Blackett sunbathing with the much-loved family dog, Whiskey.