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Lawsons: “Covid has accelerated change”

After trading in Plymouth for 116 years, Lawsons (the small group of housewares and home stores in Devon) has made “very hard decision” not to re-open its store in Plymouth city centre.

Speaking to HousewaresNews.net, Liz Lawson, managing director of Lawsons highlights how the Covid-19 pandemic has contributed to the demise of the store. She acknowledges changes in consumer behaviour, which are a boost for Lawson’s “community stores’ as well as its ecommerce site.

“Recent years have seen slower sales in Plymouth, but the pandemic has accelerated change,” notes Liz. “There was going to be a lot of activity in the city this year, with the Mayflower 400 celebrations and the opening of The Box Cultural Centre, so we were going to support all this, and see how it affected the shop. Instead footfall is down 70% – the centre of Plymouth is empty, even with the opening of non-essential shops. Most of our customers would have come in via public transport.”

Lawsons has seen strong support for its “community based stores” (particularly Tavistock and Ivybridge), reflecting how consumers are more comfortable to shop locally.  “It is much more difficult to get the same level of consumer engagement in a city centre and Covid has bought this into stark relief,” observes Liz.

Above: Community focus: Lawsons’ store in Tavistock was busy supplying customers with deliveries during lockdown
Above: Community focus: Lawsons’ store in Tavistock was busy supplying customers with deliveries during lockdown

With their strong focus on hardware, Lawsons in Tavistock and Ivybridge were trading throughout lockdown, although with their doors closed. Staff took orders over the phone and did around 50-60 home deliveries a day, as well as fulfilling the online orders that “quadrupled within days” of lockdown. “Staff were amazing!” exclaims Liz.

Cleaning products dominated orders during the first two weeks of lockdown, followed by gardening (with sales of 2,000 seed packets a week). Liz then noticed investments in “high end electrical appliances and kitchenware” once people had been paid. “We sold out of Dualit, KitchenAid and Magimix and saw high demand for top end knife sets and saucepan sets.”

Lawsons sold out of breadmakers but continued to fulfil strong demand for bread tins and cake tins, as well as supplies of flour. It highlighted “home-making” products on its website and social media.

Tavistock and Ivybridge re-opened their physical doors in May 11 (continuing to see buoyant sales bolstered by hardware and gardening demands), followed by – on May 18 – Totnes (which is more kitchenware focused, and currently trading 50% down). However, Lawsons online sales continue to be strong – despite gaps in stock from suppliers – with “baking still popular,” Liz confirms.

“A lot of people will continue to buy online, and we are still providing home delivery for local customers that aren’t coming out to shop, as well as the option to Click & Collect,” says Liz.

Above: Cleaning products were in high demand at the start of lockdown.
Above: Cleaning products were in high demand at the start of lockdown.

Customers have been “overwhelmingly supportive” following Lawson’s sad announcement of Plymouth’s permanent closure. “Our focus is now very much on community based stores,” Liz reflects. She adds that the retailer is hoping to find positions for those Plymouth staff members who have not opted for redundancy.

* An article by Tom Wall in The Observer (June 28) and theguardian.com acknowledges how ‘local shops are busy’, and that the shift toward working at home could have ‘huge long-term effects’ on shops situated in the centres of major cities.

 

Top: Lawsons’ Plymouth store has now closed permanently. Its windows showed support for NHS and frontline workers during lockdown with rainbow artwork by a young customer.

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