Opinion: Working Through Covid-19 – A Positive Plan

Representing 1,000 retail rooftops through its independent members, Cardgains is a mighty force on the nation’s high streets, and its endorsement of the recent letter to Business Minister Alok Sharma pushing for a U-turn to allow specialist card shops in England to reopen added extra weight. 

But, as Chris Dyson, joint managing director of the buying group highlights, the tenacity of the independent retailer should never be underestimated. Here, he shares his positive plan for retailers to prepare to the re-opening…

“There is no doubt that the ever changing, ever more confusing UK Covid-19 rules and regulations are having a huge knock-on effect on all the greeting card and gift industry.

Of course, however frustrating, we must be mindful of the reasons we are having to take this action – to keep the nation safe. It’s obviously not unique to our industry, as many retail sectors are feeling the same pain and frustrations as we are. Whatever the sector, every area in the production and retail chain of designing, producing and selling product is affected.

Above: Cardgains’ mascot Cyril highlights the top priority is to remain safe during the pandemic.
Above: Cardgains’ mascot Cyril highlights the top priority is to remain safe during the pandemic.

Like the majority of suppliers, we have retailers (over 1,000 Cardgains rooftops) across Wales, Scotland and England. Wales as we know ‘unlocked’ on November 9, Scotland continue to retail in levels 1, 2 or 3 and all retailers in England, in the ‘non-essential’ category are locked down until December 3.

While garden centres and essential retailers continue to trade in England it’s time to prepare positively for reopening, which we are all expecting/hoping to be on December 3 as ‘promised’ by the Government. The letter to the Secretary of State for Business, Alok Sharma, and Under-Secretary Paul Scully sent last week from the GCA (endorsed by many retailers, including Cardgains) might not result in a Government U-turn for specialist card retailers, but will ensure they understand the damage to the economy, the number of people involved in our industry and the positive effect sending and receiving greeting cards and gifts can have on everyone. The letter was a reminder of how important it is to allow all retail to reopen on December 3.

Above: The Christmas card display in Barton Shopping Centre, one of Cardgains’ many independent retail members.
Above: The Christmas card display in Barton Shopping Centre, one of Cardgains’ many independent retail members.

From the announcement of lockdown to lockdown itself our members reported strong sales in the days and weeks prior to having to close the doors. Many stayed open late and have set up ‘click and collect’ options or online ordering to continue to serve customers where possible. This will continue throughout November and it is priority to make sure everyone is ‘ready to retail’ again as soon as we are allowed.

I have been at Cardgains now for nearly 30 years and one thing I have learned in that time is ‘never underestimate the resolve and determination of the independent retailer’. Unlike the first lockdown back in March, our members are now Covid-19 safe in store, staff and customers are all used to the restrictions in place and it is now the norm for us all.

Above: The Cardgains team, members and suppliers on the buying group’s ‘Village’ stand at Spring Fair in February presenting a cheque to Sue Ryder, as a result of its charity fundraising activity in 2019.
Above: The Cardgains team, members and suppliers on the buying group’s ‘Village’ stand at Spring Fair in February presenting a cheque to Sue Ryder, as a result of its charity fundraising activity in 2019.

We all understand the rules when we go into a shop and we all respect the retailer’s rules in store; it’s not foreign to anyone anymore. I believe the desire to send more Christmas cards and gifts will be stronger than ever before. Cards will be a lifeline to many people and personal hand-written words of friendship inside each card will be greater than ever.

Social media will play its part. Our ‘social media friendly’ members up and down the country continue to be active keeping customers informed and connected on a regular basis via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

For members in England it might be as simple as planning  ‘A 12 day build-up to Christmas reopening’ campaign. Just schedule a posting every day from November 21. Each day choose an image of a Christmas display, a card or a gift, or both and send out to your followers, reminding them how many days before you are back open and looking forward to seeing them.

To all our members and independent retailers who are able to open as an essential retailer, good luck in the coming weeks. It’s important to make the most of it for yourself, your customers and the greeting card and gift supply chain.

Above: This year Cardgains is celebrating its 30th anniversary and like its retail members, it continues to evolve.
Above: This year Cardgains is celebrating its 30th anniversary and like its retail members, it continues to evolve.

The confusion may well start again if, after December 3, we are all put in different tiers or levels throughout the UK but let’s hope everyone is open and we can maximise the Christmas opportunity. I believe the need for Christmas sales is still there but more importantly let’s get this terrible virus under control and all stay safe and well.”

www.cardgains.co.uk

Top: Chris Dyson, joint md of Cardgains has long championed the power of the industry’s indies.

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