Fiona Richards

We caught up with Fiona Richards, owner of the Cumbrian gift shop, to discover how her business survived lockdown, how it feels to open again – and what’s selling well.

Fiona, how did you cope when non-essential shops were told to close? I actually took the decision to close the shop a few days before the government announced we needed to shut. The grant system had been announced, and I took that as a big hint that lockdown was coming. The main reason for closing early was the sheer number of visitors arriving in Cumbria to avoid their own towns – it actually became quite scary. I had stopped ordering stock in early March so I would not have any outstanding invoices if we were told to shut down, and that turned out to be a good decision

How did you find government support? I received the government grant  very quickly, so that ensured all my rent and utility bills would be covered. It also paid for the new screens, signs and some redecoration of the shop. As there is only me here, I didn’t have any staff worries.

Did you have an online presence to keep a revenue stream flowing? I don’t have a website,but I did sell through social media channels and had a steady flow of mail order and local deliveries. I also sell some lines on eBay and that has definitely increased as more people were shopping online. East of India hearts and gifts, soaps and hand creams were top sellers on social media, and I got a lot of messages from local customers to have these delivered also.  Top model books, art supplies and kids’ activities sold well on eBay.

I definitely spent time building social media during lockdown – I did more behind the scenes posts on Instagram, and product ideas on Facebook to generate sales. As we are a tourist area, I have a lot of regular customers who don’t live in the area, so I was able to post items out to them. We actually sold out of our Pure Lakes Range twice during lockdown which was a nice surprise.

Any other changes you made during this time? I have rearranged the till area and turned the till around in order to fit in a couple of screens. I’ve felt quite positive during this time – I knew that I had budgeted to cover all the business costs, and that all the stock would be sitting there waiting when I reopened. I took the opportunity to step back, take stock and evaluate what I wanted to do with the shop once I reopened.

How have you found the reopening process? As well as the screens, I have added baskets and hand gel station at the door. The screens and hand gel station were homemade and fit the space perfectly. I added posters and floor markings to remind people to keep apart.

What’s your initial impression of the ‘new normal’?  I am someone who is always hands on and usually spend time helping customers choose the right card or gift. I sometimes have to remind people to use the gel, and it’s not how I would choose to have my first interaction with customers.

How are stock levels at the moment? Stock levels are a little low at the moment, but I still have a good range in stock I am already reordering,and have received orders from Dandelion Stationery, The Sugar Shed and Perkins & Morley. I shall be looking to order from Big Potato Games in a couple of weeks, and will probably top up the East of India range shortly.