The start of 2020
So, 2020 was going pretty well. Spring was on the horizon, trade was brisk and our refill service was really taking off.
Enabling customers to reduce their use (and purchase) of plastic by refilling existing bottles and tubs with all sorts from shampoo to red lentils has been something we were thrilled to do, along with sourcing and stocking alternatives to plastic wherever we can (our bamboo toothbrushes have been spectacularly popular).
Anyway, things were ticking along nicely. As February turned to March and the rumblings of Coronavirus grew louder business, frankly, got busier. Then busier. Then people started pulling up fresh from Sainsbury’s asking to buy cases of chopped tomatoes and kilo upon kilo of bread flour. I’m not even going to mention loo rolls.
Many of our customers live out of town and we’re well used to selling flour by the sack and tins by the tray but many of these customers we’d never seen before and a sense of panic started to grow. Whilst we wanted to sell whatever people needed, whoever they were, we were also aware that some of our regular and more vulnerable customers were, or were preparing to, retreat. We started to spread the word that we were happy to put together orders for people needing to isolate and deliver when we could.
Closing the shop to customers
On the 18th March we made the decision to close the shop to general customers and switch to an order by e-mail/ phone system.
This solved the problem of a shop packed full of people, with its obvious dangers, but presented a different problem: orders flooding in and not enough staff, hours in the day, IT systems or storage to deal with them. Put this together with certain products disappearing before our eyes and the possibility that no more was going to be available from our suppliers. Add on the increased time it takes to interpret peoples’ lists and the time it takes to correspond by phone or e-mail, when we would normally say “oh sorry, that one is out or stock – we have something similar…” Conversations normally completed in seconds were suddenly spread over hours – sometimes days.
we received so much support and gratitude for what we were able to do that we just kept goingJessie
We muddled through. More than a few customers collected shopping that did not exactly contain what they thought they’d asked for or indeed all that they had asked for, but we received so much support and gratitude for what we were able to do that we just kept going.
Opening up again
On 31st March we opened up again and served customers from the door (whilst also continuing to complete orders for people not able to be out and about) which made life much easier, but still had its challenges. Basically, everything we normally do, and are used to doing, became more labour intensive.
Again, we chipped away with this new way of being and had some laughs along the way. Clambering over mountains of veg stacked where we would never normally have it, no loo rolls versus hundreds of loo rolls, finding parts of a customer’s order after they had left (that one was not always funny).
On 15th June we opened our little green door properly, allowing two customers in the shop at a time – and still we are (plus masks). It seems to be working fine and we’re still putting those orders together for people who need us to. Thanks to our lovely customers, friends and family we have got by. How the rest of 2020 pans out remains to be seen but we’ll do our best.