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 – Just Cards, Best Wishes and The Well Good Card Shop – revealed how they each approached the festive run-up, their respective experiences, top performing products as well as their hunches for 2021.
Maggie Wynn, owner of Just Cards, Honiton, Devon:
Verdict? “Well, we made it! What an emotional roller coaster of a year!”
How did it go? “We feel we were most probably 20% down on the previous year which we are very happy with as we were fearing much worse.”
Your strategy? “We put our Christmas stock out very early due to the fear of a lockdown – and thank God we did. When it was announced that we would have to close we put it on Facebook that we would be
Opening 8 to 8 until shutdown, which really worked, the Sunday prior to Lockdown 2 coming into effect was the busiest day we have ever had. The next four weeks we spent in lockdown was torture. When we reopened we made as much space as we could and made it as easy as possible for people to find what they needed. We opened every day to Christmas and traded for longer hours (8am to 7pm) every day to give everyone a chance to come into the store. We wanted to spread the footfall as we are a very narrow shop and wanted everyone to stay safe.”
Customer buying patterns? “We have such lovely customers who held off buying until we reopened, determined to support the local High Street.”
Your hunch and approach for 2021? “It is a time to be thankful – for our lovely loyal customers and all our friends in the card industry; notably the agents and reps without whom we could not have made it through all this without their support. We wish everybody a much better 2021 – a happy healthy one.”
Marion and Mark Flaherty, owners of Best Wishes, Garstang, Lancashire:
Verdict? “One word to describe this Christmas and most of the year has to be – Challenging.”
How did it go? “In general, our Christmas trade was above our expectations in the current climate – down about 10%, but recouping most of the lost card sales for November. We didn’t sell as many gifts due to the customers not feeling they could spend as much time browsing when we often had other people queueing outside.
We sold more boxes of cards than the previous year which surprised us as we expected many people to have purchased them in November while on furlough, but Christmas-themed giftware/ornaments weren’t high on the shopping list.”
Your strategy? “We kept busy even during the November Lockdown, albeit without customers in the shop, pulling back the stands in the window to give more display area and changing the display as often possible. We also continued with our ‘Select and Collect’ service, that we began in the spring and are continuing with again now in January. In December we had a Woodwick candle promotion which went well and created multiple purchases from a number of customers.”
Customer buying patterns? “We didn’t sell a huge amount of Advent calendars, can’t think why! While environmental concerns were evident on the giftwrappings front – we sold quite a bit of Unique’s Eco paper and rolls of brown paper and craft tags – but on the card front, as far as not wanting glitter and avoiding cellowrap, I think after the year we have had, if they liked a card, they were going to buy it!”
Top performers? “As usual the UKG Special Editions’ charity range box and cello packs did well. Other cello packs from Tracks, Paperlink and Ling also sold out, while Ling’s religious selection also went well.
Peter Pauper Press’ beautiful keepsake magnetic closure boxes didn’t stay on the shelves for long, while the emergency back up from the wholesalers of Tom Smith and Mistletoe Press products pleasantly surprised us, for quality and price.”
Your hunch and approach for 2021? “Going onwards into 2021, we were gutted but were not surprised when the Tier 4 roll out was announced, but we have a roof over of heads and are a lot better off than a lot other people. Good luck to everyone out there in retail land!”
Nigel and Karen Hamilton-Evans, owners of Boroughbridge Post Office/The Well Good Card Shop, Boroughbridge, Yorkshire:
Verdict? “Wow – what a tough year.”
How did it go? “Shop sales for The Well Good Card Shop were down about 35% up to December, but my calculations for Christmas card sales could be between 50-60% down. That is the time of year we usually get a real boost to profits so it looks like 2020 was a breakeven year. Social distancing affected us hugely but, given time, we will get back to the levels we were in 2019 and more.”
Your strategy? “We know our range and presentation was good, but we were not able to offer the personal shopper experience that we had been hoping to develop after being a huge success in the previous year.”
Customer buying patterns? “During this pandemic retail has changed dramatically. Major high street stores have been hit hard with the knock-on effect for smaller retailers being devastating. As a Post Office we have seen a significant increase in home shopping returns over the counter. This brings in a lot of younger customers returning their parcels to Boohoo, Prettylittlething and ASOS to name just a few. As they get used to coming into the Post Office they have also felt more comfortable browsing cards.”
Your hunch and approach for 2021? “We are optimistic about 2021. Our customers are very loyal and it was circumstances that kept them away as we are a Post Office. We are in the middle of new build housing which will encompass some 2,000 people. Working from home is now huge, so the opportunities for local shopping is there for the taking. That said, I have a large amount of stock left, so it becomes a quandary for our suppliers. Do they take back more returns than normal or not? If they don’t I will keep very good stock in storage and not place an order with them for Christmas 2021.”
Top: Christmas might not have had as many sparkles as cardies would have liked, but the lightbulb of hope is shining on 2021.