“We are at the end of the beginning,” stated Michael Apter, owner of the two Paper Tiger stores in Edinburgh on BBC News yesterday (June 29), in relation to the re-opening of non-essential shops (excluding those in shopping centres) in Scotland after being closed for well over three months. Sharing his take on trade as an independent card and stationery retailer in Scotland’s capital, while he said that the customers who did come through its doors bought something, Michael predicts a “long, slow return to normality.”
As Michael points out, in addition to the five mile travel restrictions in Scotland, there are other factors at large. “It was great to reopen, but it’s going to be a long haul. The reality is that we need a functioning economy to make our business work, and right now our local economy is dysfunctional. We need the ecosystem of our neighbours to be healthy, hair and beauty salons open, clinics with appointment-driven footfall, nice cafes and bars, etc all to be trading. Most offices around us are still closed with employees working from home, and there are no tourists.
As further restrictions ease, it may pick up, but I have low expectations for the next 12-15 months.”
Sharing his feelings with customers on the retailer’s Facebook page, alongside a clip of his appearance on the BBC (Click here to see the TV clip Michael posted: ‘Things will not get any easier for any of us. We are all facing the next few months having drained our energies and exhausted our mental reserves. We have emptied cash from bank accounts and from our personal savings, and we have taken out loans to save the businesses that we have built, and keep our teams together and employed. Please come and shop with us, visit our neighbours, spend your money supporting your local communities, and the places that make a difference to your local High Street or city centre.’
Meanwhile, over in Glasgow, Denise and Alan Laird, co-owners of Spirito had their own spirits lifted by the positive reactions from customers. “We had a really good day today. It was quite an emotional seeing everyone and our neighbourhood reopening again,” Denise told PG Buzz yesterday evening. “Our best sellers were cards as everyone was saying how they missed coming to the shop to buy them.”
In the Southside of the city, Stephen O’Neill, owner of Stephen O’Neill Art said “it felt good to be ringing through sales on the till again!” He admits that he was “a little anxious about how people were going to react, but it became evident very early on that people coming into the shop were very glad to be shopping again. Most customers stocked up on cards and for some reason candles were really popular.”
Stephen is among the retailers to be making the most of some quirky posters designed by Allistair Burt, owner of Glasgow-based card publisher, Hole in my Pocket. As Stephen commented: “Allistair’s posters are great and keep things a little more light-hearted, which is important as shopping in a small design store is meant to be a pleasant experience.”
Up in the Highlands, Sarah Holmes, owner of Pencil Me In in Elgin is another retailer to have used the Hole in my Pocket posters as part of its re-opening signage.
“It felt like opening the store for the first time again,” Sarah revealed to PG Buzz. “It feels like the slate of regular customers and tourists has been wiped clean. A lot of our customers are working at home or not back to work yet and so not popping into the shop during their lunch break. However, we had a steady trickle of customers in store and sold a lovely mix of cards and stationery.”
Although Sarah only opened the shop between 10am and 3pm, the takings were up on her “normal day’s trade and online was still busy with local customers taking advantage of our ‘click and collect’ service that is now active.”
She admits she remains “nervous of the next few weeks and months,” but is glad to have picked up new B2B clients for her pencil and pen printing service “and our online side has grown loads, and kept us in the game. Plus, our local council has made all local parking free and will begin to close streets on a timed basis which will be so, so good for our small one-way street.”
As some doors open, others close…
At a time when specialist multiples continue their phased re-opening in England and Wales, due to a localised outbreak of Covid-19 cases in Leicester, card retailers in that city have been ordered to closed to help stem the spread of further infection.
Among these is Stuart Delahoy, owner of Set Design, who admits that he is somewhat relieved by the directive. “It good for us all to put safety first,” he says. He says that footfall in the city centre, where the store is based has been “dire and although the conversion rate has gone up, trade was down to a point where it was touch and go as to whether it was worth being open anyway.”
Explaining the reasons why, he told PG Buzz: “A large number of our bigger neighbours, including John Lewis, had still not re-opened. As the draw and attraction of the town was diminished we feel like we were swimming up hill.”
Looking ahead, Stuart says “Our big problem is not now, because with the furlough and other help we can see this through. The real issue is Christmas. Like a majority of card and gift shops the ‘Christmas high’ helps us get over the lows in the coming year. If we still have social distancing and low consumer confidence over the festive season, we have a big problem. No Christmas, no business, it’s as simple as that. Let’s hope the government realises that help can’t just stop in October, it’s needed for years to come to allow businesses to recover.”
Top: Michael Apter of Edinburgh-based Paper Tiger on the BBC news yesterday.