Independent toy and nursery retailers share their views with PreschoolNews.net on how they will be re-opening their stores from June 15.
‘Let’s get back to business’ is the message coming through from independent toy and nursery retailers after the government confirmed over the weekend that all non-essential retailers could begin to re-open from June 15.
The date gives retailers three weeks to prepare, making necessary changes to their store layouts and environments to make them ‘COVID safe’.
“I’d been half hoping to re-open next Monday (June 1) so have already done a risk assessment and bought in masks, hand sanitiser and gloves and spoken to the staff to arrange a re-induction back into the workplace,” Amanda Alexander from Giddy Goat Toys told PreschoolNews.net. “We’ve been really lucky during lockdown to have been trading well online – April was strong but online sales have dropped in May so I am looking forward to getting customers back into the shop.
“I’ve also used the time to put a new epos system into place and re-arranged the stock rooms with a specific area for packing online orders. Going forwards I’ll be encouraging people to click and collect, but the beauty of a shop like ours is that people like to be able to browse through our toy collections, so I think local customers will still want to come in and to bring their children in for treats. We’ll be limited numbers in the shop and following social distancing protocols though.”
Vicky Brown of Just Williams is another indie toy retailer who “can’t wait to open on the 15th”.
“We feel ready to open after installing screens, creating a one-way route and moving various fixtures around our shop to create room,” Vicky commented. “We’ve implemented a cleaning regime and created hand sanitising stations in the shop for customers, as well as in our stock room and staff break areas. I have sent protocols to all my team so they know what to expect and how we are going to operate once opened.”
Vicky said that the customers have been “so appreciative” over the last few months when it has just been herself answering calls, setting up a website and doing local deliveries.
She added: “I feel that during the last few months it is important that we have gone that extra mile to keep our customers and remind them that we are here. These are difficult times and I feel we have to adapt to survive.”
Ian Edmunds, md of the Toymaster buying group, told PreschoolNews.net that it was key for stores to prepare and get ahead. “There will be lots of things which need to change in-store and they need to plan and get ahead,” he commented, adding that he was seeing good sharing of information between members about where to get items such as protective screens and hand sanitisers, as well as costings and new ways of working.
“The aisles will need to be clear, so shops will look different, plus they will need to smell and look clean when customers come in,” he said. “Suppliers have been understanding when it comes to things like not being able to have FSDUs. We should be prepared for a different type of retail.”
However, the locations of some retailers will mean that re-opening isn’t a viable option at the moment.
Louise Heard works at Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop, which is located in the usually bustling Covent Garden area of London. She commented: “Although myself and the team are keen to get back to our shop, the fact that tourists and office workers and visitors to the theatre are our main customers means that the June 15 opening may not be for us.
“Our shop is in the heart of theatre land in a heritage building with a difficult logistical situation regarding social distancing. We plan on preparing ourselves for Christmas when we feel we will be able to give excellent personal shopping service. We have been missing our shop and customers, but have been happy to connect with them on a daily basis via our social media channels. Today (May 27) we are joining with a storyteller Vanessa Woolf for a half term story from her storytelling shed via video on Instagram.”
Jo Studholme, director of Pushchair Expert, also admitted to having mixed emotions about opening her store again. “Part of me is quite happy being able to only trade online if I am completely honest – it is just a different way of trading and we are in a lucky position that it is sustainable,” she told us. “However, I am very aware that as a business we have been very lucky and it is the retailers without an online presence that have found the last few months terribly difficult.
“With regards to opening, the main priority is keeping both staff and customers (high risk, pregnant customers) safe and we are in the process of carrying out a thorough risk assessment and putting everything into place. We would have been ready for June 1, but giving us all another two weeks gives more breathing space and I am hoping that the government is going to announce more guidelines for the retail sector as just saying we must be ‘COVID safe’ allows for a lot of different interpretations.”
Molly Coleman from independent nursery retailer, Baby Birds, said that the store will be opening on an appointment-only basis to begin with, a maximum two people at a time and using a taped off area for demonstrations.
“It’s very difficult to remain safe and give the customer a positive experience, so we’d rather open on a limited basis and really focus on giving the best possible service,” she commented. “We need to ensure we can open safely before planning any big events. We’re limiting the number of people allowed in store at any one time, to limit any issues with social distancing.
“The response from our customers has been overwhelmingly positive – most of our customers are more concerned about being able to shop safely at the moment.”
Robert Anslow, md of the Baby Products Association, said that he is looking forward to seeing the cohesive approach to business from suppliers and retailers which has emerged during lockdown continuing going forward.
He commented: “Communication will be key to everyone involved from the manufacturers and suppliers right through to the end consumer – but with right protective and social distancing measures in place, we believe that the nursery retail sector will bounce back from this stronger than ever.
“We are seeing predictions of a baby boom early next year, so if this is the case, let us all work together to make the most of this.”
And Natasha Crookes, director of public affairs and communications at the BTHA, believes that the toy trade has once again shown innovation in its ability to trade through the crisis wherever possible.
“We were delighted when the announcement was made to lift regulations across all retail,” she told PreschoolNews.net. “We have guidance for members on safe operation of offices and warehouses with COVID restrictions and we are about to launch a safe working retail guide to help members and retail partners plan for reopening.
“The toy sector has once again shown innovation in its ability to trade through the crisis where ever possible but it has curtailed the ability to support housebound families with the products they need for play.
“It is so important for the ongoing health of the sector, and the healthy development of British children, to be able to trade more widely, although that will still involve restrictions and planning for the new retail environment, but it is great news that we can start to return to some more normal trading conditions.”