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“OMG!! Our Worst Nightmares Have Just Come True,” As Greeting Card Retailers Prepare For England’s Lockdown 

“OMG!! Our worst nightmares have just come true,” exclaimed Mark Janson-Smith, owner of Postmark, summing up the feelings shared by thousands of greeting card retailers in England who are looking at having to close for a month in what is usually their most financially lucrative part of the year.

“They say don’t get sad get mad – and I am very, very mad! We will never make up the loss of a month at this time of year. I can’t believe they have done this to retail,” screamed Maggie Wynn, owner of Just Cards in Honiton in frustration of the Government’s decision, to be ratified in Parliament tomorrow (November 4) that all non-essential retailers will have to close on Thursday until December 2.

“It will be a Christmas to forget,” sums up Scribbler’s co-owners John and Jennie Procter.

Above: Prime Minister Boris Johnson acknowledges that the lockdown will have a serious impact on England’s retailers and other businesses.
Above: Prime Minister Boris Johnson acknowledges that the lockdown will have a serious impact on England’s retailers and other businesses.

As echoed by the card retailers on the Bricks and Mortar panel discussion to be screened tomorrow (November 4) at the GCA Conference and AGM, the majority had been feeling “cautiously optimistic” about Christmas trade this year, with early signs being that Christmas card buying was up, but then, a day after the recording, the leak came that a total lockdown of non-essential stores in England was imminent.

This time during the lockdown, garden centres in England will be able to continue to trade while non-essential retailers can remain open for ‘click and collect’ as well as to offer delivery to customers.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own measures in place that are unaffected by the news of lockdown 2 in England.

While potentially devastating, not just to retailers, but to the publishers supplying them, retailers wasted no time in showing their fighting spirit.

“We are ‘warriors not worriers’ so we will make the most of lockdown. We’ll recharge and come back stronger,” was the battle cry of Amanda and Will Oscroft of Love it in Stamford and Bury St Edmunds.

Showing their true mettle, as soon as the news was leaked about the lockdown card retailers all over England set to, putting measures in place to maximise sales up until the start of lockdown – with extended opening hours, promotions, frantic website uploading of products as well as defining their click n collect/delivery strategy during the coming month.

PG Buzz sent out a rally cry of support to retailers on Sunday evening. Here are just some of the responses…

Mark Janson-Smith, managing director of Postmark:

“OMG!! Our worst nightmares have just come true. To then hear Michael Gove say it may continue after the 2nd December was a punch in the back of the head whilst already down.

We are in absolute shock but in true Postmark fashion, we are planning to fight it as best we can in as many innovative ways as we can. It won’t make a dent on the sales we had expected, but we can’t just sit back and do nothing.

The next few days will be really busy as the well organised ones get ahead of the lockdown (today was 100% up on last year).

Our ‘Click and Collect’ and local delivery is up and running and we are bracing ourselves for the surge once the doors close. I expect this to be a logistical nightmare but unlike the first lockdown, our website is ready to handle it this time which is a huge relief. We plan to do a four-hour collection window each day with a table across our doorways so this will also help us promote this feature to people who walk past and enquire if we are open. I hope to come up with a very quick way that a passing customer can make a ‘Click and Collect’ purchase while at the door! Needs must and all and every sale is going to count.

The biggest concern and I think that this will be for all retailers is the stock we will have left in January as however inventive we are, there is no way we will sell four shops’ worth of stock online.

I also worry for the publishers and hope that everyone works together to make sure we all pull through this.

We have SOE agreements in place, but we will be contacting the publishers in the coming weeks about our suggestions to share the burden as it has the potential to wipe out huge numbers of publishers if retailers, especially the larger ones put this back onto the publishers. I can’t stress highly enough how I really hope this does not happen as it will have a huge detrimental effect on the entire industry.

I feel is the message every single one of us in the industry should be making right now is not to support Amazon. I sent my friends all a message last night saying exactly this. We must all be shopping local more than ever right now and we must all make a huge effort to resist the ease and convenience of Amazon as thousands of small business owners need you right now. This is the message the press needs to pick up and the one we should all be pushing more than ever!

We are obviously shell shocked and can’t even begin to predict the losses this will bring, but it is what it is and we will be tackling it head on!”

1C. Mark J-S Sausage rolls
Above: Mark Janson-Smith highlights it won’t be all ‘socks, rugs and sausage rolls’ this Christmas.

Amanda and Will Oscroft, Love It, Bury St Edmunds and Stamford:

“I am just numb I cannot find any printable words about this nightmare situation but give me a minute…

We went into overdrive the moment we heard the news; Saturday night was spent food shopping (last thing anyone wants is teenagers calling to ask what there is to eat?) and battle planning  (an  alcohol-free Saturday night was a  first!), but a clear(ish) head at 6am Sunday meant we could get our retail hat on and get Christmas sorted in our shops. By 10am we had transformed Love It with a sea of red enveloped cards and opened our doors to our wonderful customers and boy did they reward us! The love, the pennies, the empathy were all flowing. The Golden Quarter had been going so well with an amazing October and November was all set to exceed expectations! It is just devastating – we absolutely love the Christmas run up in Love It with all the buzz, excitement and all the people.  Online selling has no appeal – I hate offices, computers and souless selling!

Fortunately, we are ‘warriors not worriers’ so we will make the most of lockdown, we’ll recharge and come back stronger.”

Ollie Guise-Smith and Carl Dunne, co-owners of Cards & Gifts Sheffield and Dronfield:

“Retailers haven’t ‘contributed to the spread of Covid-19’ so why ruin our lives and our livelihoods and put more pressure on the tax payer to finance this?

Nothing makes any sense anymore.  I get that any kind of socialising needs to stop, but why close the shops?  Why not go for ‘No socialising at all, shops stay open, but you shop alone’.  Why close the shops?  Why keep schools open just so that kids that don’t show symptoms can spread it?

How can indie card retailers survive? How can any business survive?  Especially with the blonde-haired stupid idiot (someone give him a comb and some gel!) saying the whole time that he would do all he could to avoid another lockdown… So, we never expected this!  In all honestly, it will probably be the nail in the coffin for our Sheffield store. Dronfield, we’ll have to go back to ‘click and collect’.  For us it’s a double blow as we’re about to open a newsagents in a former McColl’s which is due to close any minute so we’re angry that we can’t open that now and stay open with the convenience side!

We’re currently selling and distributing newspapers, but right now it looks as though we’ll be OK to do the deliveries but nothing else.  This couldn’t have come at a worse time!  Not to mention for indies that don’t qualify for any more funding, how can I pay four weeks of wages with next to nothing coming in?  Bounce back loans are all good and well, but it’s a loan, it’s a stop gap measure that we have to find the money to repay!  I hate to imagine what the likes of Cherry Orchard, Nigel Quinney, Words ‘n’ Wishes, etc. will all do – their seasonal returns will be enormous.  So that’s Mother’s Day, Easter and now Christmas all ruined for our industry. Did BoJo get a bad birthday card as a child so he’s now doing all he can to take down an industry that relies so heavily on seasonal revenues?  Is the Government trying to send everyone online and turn the whole of the high street into housing?

My final thought here is that the only way that the economy will recover will be to introduce an online sales tax of 20%, reduce VAT on high street retail and avoid putting any other taxes up, otherwise we’ll have no high street left.

None of it makes sense anymore and the end of this will be the end of the British high street and the country’s mental health. They think the NHS is stretched now, just wait and see…”

Deborah Tingay, owner of Southbourne Cards:

“Really just trying to lift myself and get the business through this dire time.  I posted this on Facebook: ‘Following yesterday’s government announcement, we have taken the decision to open from 8 am to 8 pm this Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in advance of the proposed lockdown on Thursday. This is a difficult time for us all and very challenging for our lovely little shop. We have a full range of Christmas stock that we are unlikely to sell in the quantities required this year.  It includes the best range of Christmas cards ever, plus gifts and eco-friendly Christmas gift wrapping solutions.  We want to continue to be part of this fabulous High Street, employing three local ladies and being such a support to so many in our community. Please share and pop in if you can.’

Our window looks like it’s Christmas week and our 8’ inflatable polar bear is making an appearance – first time in three years!  In order to survive we will be offering non face-to-face services later this week.  It’s going to be a very challenging few days, burning the midnight oil, but by Friday I am setting myself the challenge of having a website and e-commerce platform operational.  Loads more options flying around my head at the moment.

Another massive set back, but ultimately there are those facing much tougher times albeit financially or health related.   I still have to count my blessings, for the time being.”

Above: An large inflated polar bear is now welcoming customers to Southbourne Cards!
Above: An large inflated polar bear is now welcoming customers to Southbourne Cards!

Maggie Wynn, owner of Just Cards, Honiton:

“They say don’t get sad get mad – and I am very, very mad! We will never make up the loss of a month at this time of year. I can’t believe they have done this to retail. Back in March in the first lockdown we all said: “Thank God it did not happen at Christmas” that was the one good thing. Now, they have gone and done it! Are they trying to kill the high street? I just cried when I heard the news, now I am fuming, but we have keep going so I opened on Sunday, put it on social media and was very busy with so many nice comments. We are opening 8 until 8 until we have to close. Also, I will do ‘ring and deliver’ phone orders on £10 and above. I need to keep busy or you might see me with a banner outside parliament.”

Tabi Marsh, director of Papilio at Heritage, Thornbury:

“Oh what a rollercoaster owning our business is turning out to be. As even more information was leaked we started formulating plans as to how we could continue in as many ways as possible (all whilst bemoaning the fact that leaking information is not the way to run a country or help businesses!).  Key members of our team were quickly contacted and with Boris taking forever to actually get in front of the camera we decided not to wait for the official announcement and announced that we would be open Sunday and an extra 2.5 hours Monday-Wednesday.  Anything we could do to maximise these precious days we have left.  I was also able to work out how to do bookable Zoom shopping slots via our website so that I could announce these will also be possible.  That post has had 12 times the normal reach, engagement etc than our normal social media posts and the outpouring of love from our customers has been incredible.  The decision to open on Sunday more than paid off and we’ve scheduled extra staff in the hope that we will be busy until the closure.

I will be overcoming my need to do everything properly and will be loading as many products as I can onto our webshop with photos only to start with. If there’s later time to add nice descriptions, then great, but for now the focus is just getting it up there so customers can buy as they are saying they want to.

However, as much as the next few days should be good, whatever we do online will never make up for the lost takings for November. The card and gift shop side of our business has been doing well since we could reopen, but half of our business is hospitality which was closed for longer and has been far more impacted by the restrictions, particularly due to the ‘rule of 6’ and it has been trading at 50% of what it should.  This means moving into November feels scary, we have all our Christmas stock but with no actual footfall it’s going to be a whole lot harder to sell.  We will sadly be having to talk to some of our suppliers this week about delaying some payments. I hate doing this for so many reasons, but don’t know what else to do.  I can promise them I will be working ridiculously hard to sell and to make it as easy as possible for my customers to buy.  My fear is what happens in January and that we may have to make some difficult decisions to restructure and keep us going. We will do whatever it takes.

Customers have repeatedly said I’m so good in the face of adversity, but I’m not sure I have any choice?!  I have 19 staff, a business that has been part of the community for 45+ years, let alone the money we have invested in the place! I have to keep moving forward, coming up with new ideas, pivoting (I really hate that word now!) and persevering. I will find the energy to keep going, I will smile on Instagram Lives (however tired I may look!), I will continue to reach out to other traders in my town to encourage them and work together and I will do the best I can.

I love this industry, I believe in the power of it in bring light to people’s lives and meeting them where they are at (proven by the reaction to the cards I sent during Thinking of You Week) and that will keep me moving forward over the next month, whether it’s a day at a time, or even five minutes at a time, I will do it and will really look forward to whenever we can meet up in person as an industry once more.”

Mark and Marion Flaherty, co-owners of Best Wishes, Garstang:

“We are of course disappointed at the decision to go into lockdown, but as we are already in a Tier 3 area we have been worried about the prospect for a while.

As the news started to come through on Saturday we decided to open our shop today (Sunday), announcing it on our Facebook page, we arrived at just after 9am and only got chance to close our door after 5pm, Thank you to the people of Garstang for supporting us and shopping local, many of whom thanked us for opening and wished us all best.

We will be open 9am till 9pm each day until lockdown and we are working on our version of Click and Collect/Delivery service in the local area.

We have already got some cards spinners in the local garage shop offering a selection of everyday cards which we also did during the first lockdown.

The three lovely ladies that work for us have been in touch offering to work as much as needed this week, for which we are very grateful, I think lots of brews and biscuits will be needed if today was anything to by to keep energy levels up.

So it’s on with the comfy shoes in the morning, butties packed for lunch and a large G&T in front of the fire this evening.”

Above: Mark Flaherty, co-owner of Best Wishes Garstang being brought ‘tea’ by a friend to keep him and Marion going on Sunday!
Above: Mark Flaherty, co-owner of Best Wishes Garstang being brought ‘tea’ by a friend to keep him and Marion going on Sunday!

Sally Matson, owner of Red Card, Petworth:

“Such a bummer. Red Card had the most incredible October – we were 25% up on last October – it was all going so well!!

It is challenging as I will have to furlough my colleague Karen as we will not be able to afford two salaries and this means I will be doing it on my own. I don’t want to work seven days a week so have made the decision to do the following: Tuesday-Saturday 10-5 I will answer the phone and take orders and process them. I will also do virtual shopping tours for my regular customers. People will be able to use the website (see below) and Instagram. People will be able to collect their orders (Tuesday & Wednesday 1-5, Thursday & Friday 9-1 and Saturday 9-5)

We don’t have a website, as I have always been a bricks and mortar person, but my eldest daughter is now building us a simple one very quickly on wix. We will start with advent calendars and gradually add as much Christmas stock as possible.

I will use my Instagram to show what stock we have so people can also purchase that way. I will do a shop window as packed as possible with cards and gifts so that people can ‘window shop’ also and ring and tell me what they want. I am considering numbering the items in the window for ease of identification. A bit like Chinese takeaway – I’ll have a 23, a 12 and a 48.

I will do home delivery within a five-mile radius of Petworth and will also post orders for a minimal charge.

As cases have been very low in our area I am hoping we will definitely be able to open December 2. We will then do 9-6, seven days a week which we are allowed to do due to our small size. The challenge will be generating the revenue when we can only have three people in the shop at one time. We will offer private shopping trips outside trading hours if people want them.

My real frustration lies in the fact that garden centres can stay open (who buys stuff for gardens in winter?) and supermarkets can sell non-essentials. So all my customers will shop at the garden centres and in the supermarkets (and Waitrose’s Christmas product is very, very nice, one has to admit) so people can go out and have a lovely shopping experience when actually they are only meant to be buying essentials: that strikes me as very unfair. I only hope that they will save some shopping for December and that they will return to us next festive season.

I feel fortunate (here’s my positive spin) in that as there have been no trade shows since Spring Top Drawer, I have not purchased as much as I generally do for this quarter. How I miss those trade shows!!!!!

And finally, I feel very fortunate as I know my shop will survive. There are many businesses who will not but even more important than that, there are many people and families who will find this lockdown impossible and who will struggle to put food on the table. That makes me really worry but it also makes me realise how lucky I am.”

Sarah Laker of Stationery Supplies Marple and Wilmslow:

“I’ve started to write this email about six times today. Every time I just couldn’t put into words how cross I am over closing retail again. When we came out of the last lockdown we all jumped through hoops to become Covid safe – we cleaned, we reorganised, we spent a fortune on sanitiser, screens, PPE alongside hours of stress and worry on how to keep ourselves, our staff and our customers safe and follow the government guidelines. Research has shown that non-essential shops have not contributed to the spread of the virus, yet here we are having to close.

Having just opened a second shop and employing three more members of staff across both shops this is extremely worrying. My plan is to offer click’n’collect, deliver to customers who are shielding and to sell online as we did in the last lockdown. This will work well in Marple as our customers know the system from before, but having only just opened in Wilmslow I really don’t know what to expect which is frightening when I think how much we have spent on new ranges in the last three weeks.

I feel so strongly that stationery should be classed as essential – people are working from home and home educating their children, it isn’t a luxury. And I’m so angry that supermarkets in Wales are allowed to sell both stationery and greeting cards, yet independent retailers selling the same are closed.”

Above: Sarah Laker is all smiles on the outside, but is fuming at the Govt decision, seeing it as grossly unfair.
Above: Sarah Laker is all smiles on the outside, but is fuming at the Govt decision, seeing it as grossly unfair.

Sarah and Paul Henderson, co-owners of 3 Wishes, five shops in Dorset and Hampshire:

“It’s certainly frustrating just when things were going so well. We had experienced a decent summer and instead of the normal (and expected) lull before Christmas shopping starts we went straight into Christmas. We were feeling confident Christmas could be a good one this year.

I have to admit I expected a two week lockdown, I think that would have had significantly less of an impact on overall sales, the week before would have been busier and the week or two after. So, the news that it was to be four weeks was a knock to say the least, especially with the timing. If this had taken place in October the effect on most retailers would have been far less damaging. It would also have been more effective had it covered half term week. I would like to think the reason for the delay was that the government was genuinely hopeful it could avoid such a drastic measure this side of Christmas.

I’m not sure many retailers will be in a position to recoup lost sales in the short time between reopening on the 2nd December (we hope) and Christmas. We now have smaller teams and so will struggle with an extra busy December, especially with the added complication of restricted capacity in the shops.

Our first response was to open the shops yesterday (Sunday) to give our customers an extra day to stock up but also to give us the opportunity to restock everything ready for a busy start to this week. We had an overwhelming response with so many customers thanking us for opening and several who had purposely come out for an unplanned purchase just to help us get through the next few weeks. It was very similar to the response we had on reopening in June. Reactions such as these definitely help to make you feel more positive about the whole situation.

We have a website in the production stage so hope to be able to get this finished and live over the next few weeks. We have never wanted an online presence, much preferring the face to face side of retail so the plan is to use it mostly to make shopping easier for our existing customer base.

We will attempt a ‘click and collect’ and delivery service this time, although I’m not sure how easy this will be to manage as we only currently have one store on epos, eek!! The first lockdown interrupted our plan to finally take the plunge and roll it out to the others this year.

I think the biggest risk to our business is not having the opportunity to sell through the stock we have invested in for Christmas. Although we have been more cautious this year we still have a lot of stock in stores. We can only hope this lockdown isn’t extended past the four weeks.

With the measures we have in place I don’t see that the risk of transmission in shops (especially small retailers) is high. I do think the risk has slightly increased since the introduction of masks, customers don’t understand the importance of wearing/handling a face covering safely, they constantly touch and adjust their mask and are then touching stock etc. I also think a lot of people don’t think they need to socially distance if they are wearing a mask. Not that I expect the government to change their minds about this measure. We are taking a lot more cash than we were just after reopening so I also think everyone is just generally more relaxed than before, hopefully lockdown will give people time to reflect on this more.

Anything that could be done to persuade the government to review their lockdown decision with regard to non-essential retail would be invaluable. Right from the start of the first lockdown there has been an overwhelming feeling of ‘we are in this together’ within the industry, so many suppliers have gone above and beyond and as always we feel so lucky to be part of such a great industry. We will do whatever it takes to make the best of the next few weeks, whatever they may bring.”

John and Jennie Procter, owners and co-founders of Scribbler: 

“The BBC last week interviewed a plausible and sensible individual who had been responsible for testing for Covid throughout the country since April. They now conclude that the real numbers are, on average, around one in 50.

When asked his opinion as to how we should all deal with this crisis, his response was that we simply need to be sensible, as I presume the Swedes have been, social distance etc etc and it should eventually sort itself out.

Who knows – but I have to say I’m not overly convinced that this current lockdown is the answer.

Obviously we are ramping up our website, reluctantly reducing our Christmas buying, continuing our landlord negotiations with regard to unsustainable rents and lobbying the Government with regard to business rates.

We will need more support and given that will keep going but it’s going to be a Christmas to forget.

Can’t think of an appropriate expletive!”

Above: Scribbler’s owners say it will be a Christmas to forget.
Above: Scribbler’s owners say it will be a Christmas to forget.

Rachael Barnes, co-owner of Dragonfly Cards and Gifts, Knaresborough:

“This was the news we were all hoping we’d never hear! Losing Easter sales was bad enough, but Christmas?! Just hope we really do get to reopen at the end of the four weeks and it isn’t extended further, so at least we can salvage some sales.

We’re all hands-on deck for these remaining few days, so we can get as many people through the doors safely, so that they can stock up in readiness. We’ve been offering private shopping sessions on Sundays and some evenings anyway, where customers book a slot to get the shop to themselves for half an hour so they can shop in peace. We offered more slots on Sunday as soon as we heard the news, and these were quickly snapped up by grateful regulars. We are also offering this Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings until 8pm this week before we are forced to close.

Once in lockdown we will be offering a ‘click & collect’ service again, especially for balloons, as this was very gratefully received last time.

Good luck everyone, see you on the other side ”

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

“Well I have not long got back from the shops following starting our Sunday opening today, the remaining hours til 9pm have been spent re-merchandising and ensuring every item of Christmas has been put out.

We are extremely disappointed with Boris’ announcement, to be honest like many we feel we are being penalised by a few who haven’t followed guidelines and will continue to flout the rules and spread the virus.

Small independent shops are probably the safest places to shop. We follow the guidelines, we have sanitiser that everyone must use on entry and we manage numbers in our stores. Unfortunately, the supermarkets don’t and yet remain open selling non-essential lines – and don’t get me started on garden centres being allowed to continue as ‘essential’ retail.

A lockdown needs to be just that, but unfortunately it looks far from it, schools and universities need to close while these age groups may weather the virus better, they are still super spreaders.

This for us like many is our ‘Golden Quarter’ – we just hope people will continue to support their local shops and not just shop in the supermarkets and via Amazon.

We are fortunate to have 90% of our stock online and have seen a surge of orders already. We will remain active on social media to generate interest plus we will push ‘click n collect’ from both stores.

The next three days we are opening 9am to 6pm and have been taking bookings for ‘out of hours’ VIP shopping slots where we take a £20 deposit.

Let’s just hope we can reopen on the 3rd December as I feel there may be a number of businesses flouting the rules as we need to sell the £thousands of pounds of stock we have all invested in. Rant over, for now!”

Above: Jon May of Mooch was among those to speak out on the GCA Retail Panel about how well Christmas sales had been going.
Above: Jon May of Mooch was among those to speak out on the GCA Retail Panel about how well Christmas sales had been going.

 

Louise Prydderach, owner of Forget Me Not and Lulu Loves in Stubbington:

“It’s so, so sad, here, we are still in tier one with a very low local rate…

Today stated with a Sunday 7am team meeting. Both store managers stayed unfurloughed last time so we are well versed in what we need to do…

The plan of attack is to launch a quick Christmas promotion ASAP to limit the amount of seasonal stock left over.
My main concern is our single Christmas cards.
We’ve decided to extended our opening hours for the rest of the week to 9pm.

On Thursday we will remove some of our gift displays and turn that area into a small telephone customer service centre. Many of our regular customers are elderly don’t have access to the internet or social media. So this morning we quickly hashed together a leaflet explaining what services we can offer (click and collect, local deliveries etc)

Luckily we upgraded to a digital phone line this year and can take up to four calls at any one time. We will take it very slowly with staffing levels but are hopeful we can keep 50% of the team unfurloughed.”

 

Top: PM Boris Johnson addressing the House yesterday as he asked MPs to support his proposal for a four week lockdown in England.

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