We caught up with Jo Williams, owner of the award-winning Nuneaton store, to discover how her business survived lockdown, how it feels to open again – and what’s selling well.

Jo, how did you cope when non-essential shops were told to close? At first it was difficult as we were all furloughed. After four weeks I decided to return to the shop and start holding Facebook Lives to show people what we do in the shop and offering items for sale if they required anything. I had lots of messages asking for items and so I started to do one or two Live events each week. 

How did you find government support? I had the grant for £25k from the government due to the rateable value of the property and also took advance of the furlough scheme for the six staff employed by the business. I also took out a Bounce Back Loan that’s allowed me to clear all debts and create one affordable repayment going forward.

Did you have an online presence to keep a revenue stream flowing? I had a website prior to the lockdown but I have been having some work done on it and therefore there is still along way to go before it is fully finished as my time is already spread thin. Our Facebook page has grown slightly over the lockdown, maybe adding a few hundred new followers, and I have continued to post regularly to keep people’s interest.

Any other changes you made during this time? We’ve offered a click & collect and delivery service for the local area.

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How has the reopening process been? I completed a full risk assessment prior to opening to ensure that we followed the guidelines. We have had a spit screen installed, floor stickers and put in a one-way system around the shop. We have a hand sanitiser station at the door and all baskets are cleaned regularly throughout the day and after the customer has used one. 

Your initial impression of the ‘new normal’? Customers seem to have been conditioned to queue now before entering a shop, however as a gift shop is a place to ‘browse’ some people don’t want to stand waiting to come in and will walk off. Being within a shopping centre, we aren’t allowed to queue customers outside the front of our stores and therefore we have to ask them to join a specific zone and wait to be called, again something that puts people off. 

How are stock levels? I have had a few deliveries of items that customers have requested, plus backorders from Spring Fair have also started to arrive now too. I’ve had deliveries from Enesco and Widdop so far since reopening due to special orders and back orders.

How do you feel about the rest of 2020? I have to reassess the hours everyone works and there may be some difficult conversations to have in the future, if sales don’t reach previous levels, the reduced hours might be a permanent change.

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