John Shepherd, Partridges: “Instant karma before the storm”

31 August 2022, 08:18 AM
  • John Shepherd, managing director at Partridges, discusses how fine food retail is experiencing 'instant karma' after the challenges of the pandemic
John Shepherd, Partridges: “Instant karma before the storm”

The Great Outdoors has played its part in helping Partridges as a speciality food shop for many years but never before like this year.

Our new location, facing a pedestrianised square in an affluent part of London, was not high up on the list of positive commercial considerations when we relocated 18 years ago to our present site.

I was more concerned about the lack of display windows and the fact that the shop was set back some 30 yards from the main thoroughfare.

But in recent times the outside café and wine bar, and our landlord’s support in providing external seating for al fresco hospitality, have been a great help throughout the recent challenges.

In particular, this year will go down as momentous in terms of increased footfall. Overall, our footfall has increased by some 30% per month despite onerous cost of living increases and very depressing predictions about the state of the economy in the autumn.

I am not highlighting this in any way to claim success, but rather to contrast this with the economic storm that is due to engulf us in a few months’ time.
In many ways the temporary increase in footfall is providing an artificial veneer for the bigger picture.

Of course, in comparing this year with last year we are comparing apples and pears. Last year there were still Covid guidelines, travel restrictions and British weather patterns affecting trade.

This year there has been a spectacular run of warm weather from the end of May through to the end of July, with as yet no significant rain in the forecast. Despite stock supply issues, recruitment problems and fast increasing retail prices, things appear to be looking good.

But it is due more to a unique set of local and national circumstances rather more than any longer-term trend.

For example, this year the Chelsea Flower Show returned after a hiatus in all its glory. This increased footfall in the area enormously, especially due to the inspirational Chelsea in Bloom event which festoons the local streets and shops.

This was followed by the Platinum Jubilee Street Party on 4th June – which provided record sales and customer numbers and when the feel-good factor really took off – but more was to follow. Our Duke of York Square Wimbledon screen and Cameron Norrie’s success in reaching the semi-finals gave us a great start to July.

The warm weather and the Lionesses’ tremendous success in the Euros kept the wine department ticking over nicely, and even the Commonwealth Games seemed to boost what is normally our quietest week of the year.

And, throughout all of this time, we have seen more tourists in London than in the past two years as well.

The combination of all these factors, possibly instant karma following the terrible challenges of the pandemic, has resulted in very positive sales figures which undoubtedly look encouraging but mask the extent of the trading difficulties we are about to face.

I am not sure how we can prepare for these, but in September when the holidays are over and the first rains of autumn arrive, I think the retail climate will change for the worse.

Having started working in the early 1970s, I never expected to be reading about the possibility of power cuts again.
But Partridges survived the Three Day week and electricity rationing in 1974, and we often forget the long list of other crises that have come and gone over the past 50 years.

Hopefully 2022 will be another one to add to that list. At least we made some hay while the sun shined.

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