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Retailer Revelations: From Christmas And Beyond…

It was not the Christmas trading period anyone asked Santa for, but ‘it was what it was’. A trio of leading indie greeting card retailers – Box of Delights, Dragonfly Cards & Gifts and Mooch – revealed how they each approached the festive run-up, their respective experiences, top performing products as well as their hunches for 2021.

Michelle Ellingham, owner of Box of Delights, Flitwick, Bedfordshire:

Verdict? “Challenging! Heartbreaking!”

Above: Box of Delights is a three generation business. Michelle (right) with her mum and daughter.
Above: Box of Delights is a three generation business. Michelle (right) with her mum and daughter.

How did it go? “Gosh I really wish we had been busy in the week leading up to Christmas!

Our Christmas trade from December 2 was completely overwhelming, the support from our loyal customers blew me away, in turn they were very satisfied with the safe shopping experience we provided. Our card sales went through the roof as many customers wanted to wait for us to reopen rather than purchase in the supermarket or garden centres!

Boris’ announcement on Saturday 19 December that we were in Tier 4 forcing us to close immediately shattered our Christmas beyond belief. The devastation of losing the most important five days business of the entire year was completely irretrievable.”

Above: Box of Delights got its Christmas sales off to a cracking start.
Above: Box of Delights got its Christmas sales off to a cracking start.

Your strategy? “As novices we created and set up our own new webshop in super quick time, tirelessly adding stock, which felt like a laborious task, but knew it was essential! As we were locked down from November 4 it meant I could give more thought and attention to our three window displays wanting to create thoughtful, magical displays that would include as many products as possible, to encourage potential sales!

Social media was an essential tool, posting products each day and providing a ‘Click & Collect’ service.”

Above: One of the early posts on Box of Delights social media channels promoting its Christmas products, including these Five Dollar Shake face coverings.
Above: One of the early posts on Box of Delights social media channels promoting its Christmas products, including these Five Dollar Shake face coverings.

Customer buying patterns? “More customers bought in bulk for many occasions, not just Christmas as they were concerned about another lockdown. On the Christmas front close relations cards, boxes and packs sold much earlier than usual while on the non-Christmas front, anything connected to thinking of you and family sold well. Most ethical and environmental issues seemed to have gone out the window, nobody seemed bothered, we saw a massive rise in customers requiring a bag as they hadn’t brought their own!”

Top performers? “Publishers who were our top performers at Christmas were The Art File, Belly Button Designs, Caroline Gardner, Cinnamon Aitch, Five Dollar Shake, Janie Wilson, Ling Designs and Woodmansterne Publications.”

Above: Belly Button Designs’ cards were among Box of Delights’ best sellers.
Above: Belly Button Designs’ cards were among Box of Delights’ best sellers.

Your hunch and approach for 2021? “I’m feeling nervous about 2021. Before the November lockdown, I started to feel the confidence to order new Spring Seasons, but now I’m not only deeply concerned that we might not reopen, but also that we still have stock that wasn’t sold from last year.

I’m so very sad and disappointed that I haven’t been able to meet with my reps/agents to view their exciting new products from the companies they represent. I so miss all so many things about our industry that we can no longer take for granted.😢”

Rachel and Paul Roberts, co-owners of Mooch, five shops in Northampton, Olney and Towcester:

Verdict? “Exhausting”

How did it go? “We sold through almost all our Christmas card stock, so it was bang on what we’d set out to achieve, maybe slightly better than expected as we would normally have quite a bit of stock left.”

Above: Rachel Roberts appeared on BBC news talking about the effect of the lockdowns on business.
Above: Rachel Roberts appeared on BBC news talking about the effect of the lockdowns on business.

Your strategy? “We put much more effort into promoting online sales and utilising Click & Collect.”

Customer buying patterns? “It’s really hard to find any pattern. We limited the number of people in the shop at any time and had near constant queues. We did find that people were shopping more purposefully and our ATV was much higher than previous years.”

Top performers? “Boxed cards sold out very quickly and the higher price point cards also sold out earlier.”

Above: Mooch opened its fifth store in October, in the Rushden Lakes shopping centre in Rushden.
Above: Mooch opened its fifth store in October, in the Rushden Lakes shopping centre in Rushden.

Your hunch and approach for 2021? “We’ll be going BIG for Christmas 2021 – we’re expecting it to be huge next year as families catch up on missed celebrations. We’re feeling bruised but optimistic. We have a tricky few months to navigate, but once the vaccine starts to hit the masses we’re looking forward to a big bounce back with an abundance of ‘feel good’”

Above: Mooch’s own brand candles will continue to burn bright in 2021.
Above: Mooch’s own brand candles will continue to burn bright in 2021.

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

Verdict? “”Heartwarming. Our customers did everything they could to support us and the whole community pulled together to support all of the indies in town. It really made me feel lucky to be part of such an amazing community.”

Above: Rachael Barnes is encouraged by the ‘shop local’ support from the public.
Above: Rachael Barnes is encouraged by the ‘shop local’ support from the public.

How did it go? “The week commencing 14 December was significantly up on the previous year, as customers shopped earlier to allow time for posting. Christmas week was down as a result, with Christmas Eve seeming strangely calm without swathes of drunken men calling in on the way home from the pub! Sales wise December as a whole ended up almost exactly the same as the previous year which was a very pleasant surprise indeed. Individual card sales were down slightly, but partyware and gifts were both up, as customers opted to do everything in one shop rather than have to visit many different ones.”

Your strategy? “We put our Christmas displays out about three weeks earlier than usual, at the beginning of October, and customers started buying straight away. I don’t think I’ve ever sold a wife Christmas card in October before!

As a lot of our customers are older and were a little nervous of coming shopping, we offered private shopping sessions in the evenings and Sunday afternoons, where they could have the shop to themselves (or with another member of their bubble) for half an hour. These were hugely popular and we will probably look to offer them again in future years, virus or no virus.

We offered a ‘Click & Collect’ type service for the period of lockdown, particularly for helium balloons so this, combined with reduced staff costs as they were furloughed, meant November was only slightly down on the previous year.”

Above: Part of the Christmas display in Dragonfly Cards & Gifts.
Above: Part of the Christmas display in Dragonfly Cards & Gifts.

Customer buying patterns? “In the three days before the November lockdown started, we took (saleswise) what we normally do in two weeks, as everyone scurried in to stock up on their cards. That went a long way to helping fill the gap while we were closed.

Our customers certainly welcomed us back when we were allowed to reopen post Lockdown 2, with a queue outside for most of December! We were only able to let four customers in at a time to ensure social distancing, but we still got through as many people as usual.

Most of our cards are unwrapped now, which we thought might be a nightmare at Christmas with envelopes going astray, but we trialled putting the envelope inside the card (behind the insert if it had one) and this proved very successful. Glitter didn’t seem to be an issue, but most of ours featured environmentally-friendly glitter, such as those from Nigel Quiney”.

Above: Nigel Quiney sold well in Dragonfly.
Above: Nigel Quiney sold well in Dragonfly.

Top performers? “Wrap was the area customers were most concerned about environmental impact, but thankfully we had ordered some fully recyclable craft paper from Jackson’s which was hugely popular.”

Your hunch and approach for 2021? “We are quietly optimistic about 2021. There has been a real resurgence in shopping local, so hopefully this will continue. At the moment we are still Tier 3, so just hoping that we can remain here with no further lockdowns.”

Top: Dragonfly Cards & Gifts welcoming in the new year!

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