John Shepherd, Partridges: “I am slightly optimistic…”

27 May 2021, 07:56 AM
  • In his latest column, John Shepherd, MD of Partridges explains why he’s looking forward to this summer – “pandemic permitting”
John Shepherd, Partridges: “I am slightly optimistic…”

What is running a speciality food shop going to be like as we tiptoe through the lockdown lifting steps?

For the first three months of 2021 our sales have been down by 6.8%. As customer count over this period was significantly down by 19.5% it was helpful that average spending rose by 11.4%.

Location has been a lottery during Covid-19. Unfortunately our local area has particularly suffered from a drop in passing trade which is a very important part of the business.

However our Easter experience has again suggested that there is a speciality food bounce at times of seasonal festivities during the pandemic, despite daily sales being down. This trend has been noted at Christmas, which showed growth of + 7.9%, Valentine’s Day +40% (it fell on a Saturday this year, which helped) and Mother’s Day +6.1%. However, Easter Week 2021 knocked the egg out of the park being 13.2% up on 2020 and 27.3% up on 2019.

This came like a shot in the arm and a very pleasant surprise. There were a number of factors in play. We had unseasonably good weather throughout the week. Local customers were keen to take advantage of the warmer air and get out of the house and there were only limited establishments where unusual and imaginative products could be found. All of our Easter eggs and gift ideas sold particularly well. This year will not be ‘The winter of our discount eggs’ I am very relieved to say.

However, for how long this Easter bounce or bunny hop is going to continue divides opinion among staff and suppliers alike. It is true to say for us that last year lockdown sales remained positive for the several weeks after the pandemic started. However once hospitality opened and the Eat Out To Help Out scheme got going there was an alarming drop in sales during the third quarter. At this point the fear was that post pandemic sales would flatline and it was going to be a challenge to restore “normal” sales going forward.

Yet the fourth quarter of 2020, with continuing pandemic uncertainty, still bounced back strongly with sales passing expectations due to strong Christmas speciality food and wine sales. This time round we are hoping to avoid a crash landing without actually knowing how to do it. The main focus will be on the phrase I saw quoted recently “Out is the new in”.

From 12th April according to Government guidelines, “Food and alcohol can be consumed outside using tables and chairs”. Depending on location and bearing in mind we have closed our in-store café this should be a key sales driver for us. Although the actual management of this will cause some difficulty. Table orders only, customer information gathering and a lack of space will limit sales.

On the good news front, from 3rd April we have tentatively reopened the fine food market with a small group of essential traders. Hopefully we can grow this through the following months to achieve a nearly normal market by 17th May when groups of up to 30 people can congregate and finally arriving on 21st June when all restrictions are lifted.

Finally, we are still focusing on customer deliveries and online orders to reach out to as many customers as possible. Sales in this area are still holding up well albeit erratically. At present, I am slightly optimistic because of three reasons.

The arrival of the warmer weather, the ability to hold outdoor activities and an increased desire from customers to have food delivered out. To me it all indicates this should be a better summer than last year. And in the summer months a food shop runs itself, I have heard it said. Pandemic permitting. As a famous expression of my youth urged, “Let it all hang out.”

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