My business, Rays Ice Cream, Swindon’s independent ice cream maker is celebrating 9 years in business on the 12th August and I used it as a chance to reflect on the last few months’ trading.
When we opened the doors of our Old Town shop for the first time on 12th August 2011, I had absolutely no idea where this business journey was going to take me. By the spring of 2020, I thought I had a much clearer idea of what was coming next for the business, we had spent a lot of time over winter marketing the wholesale side of our business and had plenty of new business customers lined up for the season; we had agreed another 3 month pop-up shop at Swindon Designer Outlet; we had various weddings and events planned in the diary and plans for new products for our shops. Little did we know what was around the corner…….
By the end of March we had closed both of our shops, our wholesale business had all but disappeared overnight as our customers’ businesses had also closed, events began being cancelled or postponed one by one. It was a truly terrifying time and I genuinely had no idea if we would get through it, I held a meeting with my Management Team to let them know as much but assuring them that we were going to do everything within our power to ensure our survival.
We decided that the avenue that was still open to us was home deliveries, something we had never done before! I will be eternally grateful to our website designer who turned our basic website into one capable of ecommerce at lightning speed – it wasn’t perfect, but it did the job in the short term. It’s been an interesting time and we are fortunate in that our home delivery service took off really quickly and went really well. All planned events are cancelled for this year and we’ve taken the difficult decision to permanently close our smaller shop. But our bigger shop has opened up stronger than ever, our wholesale business is returning slowly and we’re continuing with our home deliveries, albeit at a reduced level to the height of lockdown. We’ve got a tricky time ahead as we head into our off season, but we’ll keep doing our utmost to deliver a quality product with great service and we’ll see what happens next.
5 things I have learnt from trading in a global pandemic
1. You have to be prepared to adapt.
Of course, planning is important, but you’ve also got to be ready to throw your plans out the window and head off in a different direction, in this case at breakneck speed.
2. You need the support of great people.
My team are fantastic and I am so grateful to have them. They of course were also concerned, for their health, for their jobs. They were also trying to get to grips with doing some things for the very first time and in a hurry. We went from discussions about furlough, to working more hours than ever. But they’ve all done it outstandingly and with a smile on their faces.
3. You need to keep your customers informed.
We have never seen so much interaction on our social media pages. We used those to communicate to our customers what we were doing, people were chipping in all the time with messages of support and encouragement which were invaluable to us.
4. People were still happy to treat themselves, in fact, for a time treats were hard to come by and we had plenty of brand new customers seeking us out. We stuck to our principles of great product served with great service and it seemed to go down really well. The sound of children squealing ‘is it the ice cream?!’ as I knocked the front door was truly heart-warming.
5. You have to support others and accept help that’s offered to you.
Our wholesale customers were suffering, obviously, they are mostly local restaurant and pub owners and their businesses were closed. Some of them also adapted very quickly – into farm shops, or to selling our ice cream for takeaway from their doorsteps. We lent out all the freezers we had and helped them with tubbing for their shops. In many ways this has pulled us, the local business community, closer together. And we were lucky to be eligible for the government grants at the beginning of lockdown, with rent to pay on three commercial premises, this help was invaluable – vital even – and we are extremely grateful to have received it. As entrepreneurs, we’re very proud people and like to carve our own path, but sometimes we have to accept help!