John Shepherd, Partridges: “The revolution starts here”

04 May 2022, 07:07 AM
  • John Shepherd, managing director of Partridges, reflects on the first quarter of 2022, and welcomes the post-Covid era
John Shepherd, Partridges: “The revolution starts here”

As we start emerging into the post-Covid era, and hopefully leave the terrible virus behind, (despite current cases being at high levels), what lessons have we learned as speciality food retailers and how can we put them to good use in the future?

Certainly, there are a lot of questions hanging in the air. Over the last two years, frequently, we have been asked by customers and colleagues alike the question ‘How’s it all going?’ Recently the question we are being asked is more along the lines of “What next”? However, before we get to that we should really ask ourselves “Where are we now”?

The answer to this is confusing. The first quarter of 2022 has been and gone in the blink of an eye. The older one gets the younger stock takers appear when they turn up for their three monthly duties!

Sales at Partridges were about 3% up on 2021 which is not so great when considering the current price inflation we are experiencing.

It is difficult to gauge 2022 of course, a relatively normal year compared to its predecessor and its tiers and guidelines, and what our expectations should be. Compared to 2020, the Covid Year, quarter one sales were down by only 3% which surprises me. Because that was the year when Christmas came early… in March.

For two weeks when the first lockdown was announced, prompted by panic buying, and some degree of hoarding, sales went through the roof. 34% up in the first week and 37% up in the second. But then, just like normal, post-Christmas sales deflated like a punctured balloon. In that week we dropped 14% on the previous year when lockdown really started to bite.

Considering quarter two in 2020 was somewhat subdued, at Partridges the sales increase overall was more modest than has been suggested in the media reports about food shops that remained open. Plus there was the added aggravation of the Great Resignation, health and safety concerns and general supply issues which made it altogether a torrid time. Our in-store café closed never to reopen.

Yet we were extremely fortunate to remain trading unlike so many other non- essential retailers, so we will eternally count our blessings.

Hopefully, many of these difficulties lie behind us. So now what? In my view, it is time to get creative and launch all those initiatives that have been mothballed for the past two years. It’s not easy to kick start when being hard-wired to caution but the revolution starts here.

For us, the projects include an all-round upgrade to the deli, the front checkout areas, the café section and better signage and merchadising all round. Plus, some crash, bang, wallop ideas that may possibly go crash, bang, wallop and not work out. But one lesson that we have surely learned from the Covid era is to live and trade in the moment.

Despite the economic pressures we are all facing, despite the conflict in Eastern Europe and despite all sorts of other sad events that have occurred recently there will always be a place for speciality food in our lives and local communities.

Summer is around the corner and a memorable national celebration, the Platinum Jubilee, awaits us. Goodbye sense of dread, hello scents of spring. Let’s embrace the future even more than we have feared and endured the past. It’s time to live in the moment.

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