“I love greeting cards, I absolutely adore them,” proclaimed Oliver Tress, owner of the lifestyle retail group Oliver Bonas when he spoke at the GCA’s AGM Conference last October at which he revealed that the retail group card sales were up 11% year on year (https://www.pgbuzz.net/oliver-bonas-greeting-card-sales-are-up-11-like-for-like/) and how a Lucy Maggie card design with the message ‘Shake your tits, it’s your birthday’ was OB’s best seller at that time. However, it was an altogether more serious message Oliver was keen to get across when he appeared on the respected BBC Radio 4 Today programme two days ago (22 July), during which he called for a “radical” rethink of the Business Rates, describing the current system as “clunky, cumbersome and “a real obstacle” for regeneration.
“I am hoping that in the back room they’re coming up with a new plan as bringing rates back at full value is really going to make things difficult and is not going to help the regeneration that’s going to be needed.”
During the four minute slot on the respected BBC news programme, journalist Justin Webb asked about the retailer’s store opening programme, current trading patterns and the likely future scenario.
Confirming that while 54 of Oliver Bonas’ 80+ stores have now re-opened and a few more will open up next week, Olly revealed that it has “got about 20 stores that we haven’t opened at all and don’t know when we will.”
The challenge being that these stores are in locations which have been affected by people working from home, being in office areas or train stations. “For these ones it’s a wait and see policy at the moment,” said Olly.
Of the Oliver Bonas stores that have opened, echoing the experiences of many other card stockists, the most successful ones have been those its “neighbourhood stores”, located close to residential areas. These stores have “bounced back pretty quickly,” said Olly, while generally trade in its stores in city centres and shopping centres has been “pretty modest.”
When pressed as to what the likely size of Oliver Bonas store portfolio is likely to be in the near future, Olly relayed how it is not just a case of handing the keys back on stores they feel are no longer viable.
“We have lease agreements and can’t just walk away from them. We can talk to landlords about a new possible arrangement or I suppose, in the final analysis, could do some kind of restructuring whereby you would be able to walk away from leases, but that’s not in our thinking at the moment,” stressed Olly. Summing up the reality of the situation as well as his hopes, Olly said: “Really it is a case of making the best of what we can from what we’ve got and hoping that more customers start going back to work and will visit the stores that at the moment we’re not able to trade. Perhaps we’ll be carrying a dozen stores that are losing money and it’ll just be a long hard slog for the business.”
You can listen to the interview on the BBC Sounds site for the next few days. The interview starts 20 minutes into the programme.
Oliver Bonas has become something of a ‘poster boy’ business. While HSBC has been proud to grant a £3.5 million Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan to the company (https://www.giftsandhome.net/oliver-bonas-secures-3-5m-loan/), the UK government has held up its preparations for trading safely in these Covid-19 times as a great example (https://businesssupport.blog.gov.uk/2020/06/22/oliver-bonas-working-safely/).
Top: Oliver Bonas’ St Albans store is one of the 54 of its shops that are open.