David Conduit, director at Harts of Stur reflects on a “manic” period for online sales while the UK has been in lockdown and consumers have been busy cooking at home. The surge in demand has presented challenges, as David acknowledges:
“The lockdown of course was not forecast by anyone, individual, retailer, distributor, or manufacturer. As with many businesses, when it hit we entered a period of caution. How would it affect business? Our stores would shut, and many people would be at home and with reduced income, it was felt that maintaining cashflow was the best chance to ride out the storm.
It quickly became apparent that for those retailers geared up to serve customers remotely, ie via an established website, business was suddenly shooting up. We at Harts carefully managed this opportunity. Effective management was the key, as with Amazon amongst other big retailers all but withdrawing from non-essential supplies, we could have been swamped with orders.
Home cooking enjoyed a massive explosion in focus and popularity, and why not? Millions of people stuck at home, perhaps with restless children, looking to fill their time and use that time to go back to basics. Anything to do with food prep was (and still is) hot property, and for SDA, this means food mixers, blenders, food processors, health grills, coffee machines, kettles and toasters. Harts of Stur are well positioned to capitalise here, and within the first few weeks, we were looking at Black Friday and Christmas levels of trading.
Fantastic as this is, it poses challenges. Towards BF and Christmas, much forecasting and planning goes in to ensure we are fully prepared for the upsurge in trade; extra staff, packing areas and stock. Of course, we had made no such plans for this unforeseen period. We had shop floor and sales team members on furlough, but could not bring them into our warehouse safely due to social distancing. Our warehouse team not only had to adapt very quickly to the new operating restrictions, but also working long, hard hours in an extended heat wave. It has been draining for everyone, and it’s a testament to our team’s fortitudethat we have still managed to respond and satisfy the increased demand.
Six or more months of SDA stock was quickly sold through. Stock was being pulled from everywhere and anywhere. Stock issues were compounded with both un-forecast demand, and factories having to shut down. As I write, many key lines from key brands are now sold out. All national retailers and the vast majority of higher profile online retailers are in the same position.
As we start getting back to normal, let’s hope that the consumer continues with the trend of preparing good food at home.”
* Harts of Stur’s store in Sturminster Newton reopened its Garden Shop from mid May, as well as its Homeware department “in a very restricted way,” ie offering a “counter service,” only, “so customers queue, and staff members fetch their list, rather than customers browsing around.” The retailer expects to open more fully from June 15, in line with Government guidelines.
* Harts of Stur is also resuming progress with its ambitious expansion plans, with building work recommencing.
Top: Some of the categories covered by Harts of Stur’s well-established and multi-award winning ecommerce site.