Lords at Home (the small hardware and housewares chain in London and Chorleywood) has been trading through lockdown – much to customers’ delight – and has seen a surge in demand for cooking and baking products. Brand director Rita Dewan talks about Lords’ experiences and shares her advice for fellow independents that hope to re-open when the Government’s next steps will allow them to.
Lords began re-opening its six shops from April 3, focusing initially on its three stores with the strongest core of hardware products (categorised as essential by the government). “We sell items people need including a large range of specialist cleaning products, anti-bacterial products, face masks and gloves, pest control and so on,” explains Rita.
“People are really glad we’re open. There’s been a surge in cooking at home, so when customers came in for hardware essentials, they also started picking up things for their new-found cooking skills or because they have started baking.”
Rita recognises that trade is “nowhere near how it was,” – there are fewer people about and the shops are operating on reduced hours (10.30am to 4.40pm), partly so that staff can avoid busy times to travel (although many live locally). However customer numbers have been building up slowly as word gets around (including thought local community groups) and because “there are more people walking around that see you are open.”
Lords’ shops are allowing just two customers inside at a time, including in the largest store, Chorleywood, where there is a member of staff at the door to ensure this. “It makes people feel safe – it’s important for you and your team.” Customers understand the distancing rules and do not mind waiting their turn, having become used to this at supermarkets, notes Rita. Staff members are able to point to products that customers ask for, and move back appropriately.
“People are thrilled to buy locally – they are happy to go somewhere other than the supermarket and appreciate talking to someone different. Having a conversation can make a difference to someone’s day, providing a sense of normality.”
Rita’s advice to independents that hope to open from June or July (depending on the Government’s next steps) is to get their shops well prepared: spots on the floor for distancing, screens for staff at tills, supplies of masks and gloves for staff, hand sanitiser stations and “a big sign for the door” explaining how many customers are allowed in at one time (reflecting the size of the shop). She reassures industry colleagues that – with safety measures in place –reopening “has been fine.”
“Most people ask, “Can I come in?” and everyone is respectful of how we are operating,” reflects Rita.
Rita also highlights the need for shops to ensure they have enough stock to address the demand for cookware and baking products. “We didn’t expect the high demand– we thought it would be hardware that people wanted.”
She advises: “Be what you need to be in these difficult times – listen to your customers’ requests and diversify. We’ve adapted and moved into stocking more cooking and baking products.”
Bakeware (such as loaf tins, cake tins, baking paper), spatulas, graters, other gadgets and good knives have been selling well. Baking is proving particularly “therapeutic” for consumers during challenging times, as Rita notes.
Looking ahead, Rita acknowledges: “People are going to be at home this summer and they want things to make their houses nicer- so consider what they need and be flexible.”
Customers’ appreciation is helping to keep spirits buoyant at Lords. “Customers are so thrilled you’ve opened – happy for themselves and for you,” says Rita. “Don’t be frightened,” she concludes, hoping that other independent cookshops and housewares stockists will also have a positive experience of re-opening in the coming weeks.