Posted: 28/07/2020

Independent thoughts: retailers’ Christmas plans

As independent retailers begin placing their Christmas orders and starting to prepare for what promises to be a one-of-a-kind festive period, FFD caught up with three businesses to get their predictions and plans for this December.

Johnny McDowell,

Indie Füde,
Northern Ireland

“We’ve built a new customer base throughout this [COVID] and that loyalty should extend through to Christmas,” Johnny McDowell tells FFD. “So we’re planning it the same way we did last year and are fairly confident we’ll do the same level of trade.”

That said, McDowell is waiting to see what happens with spending on corporate hampers and gifts, given the potential impact on private businesses over the next few months.

“We have a large public service workforce in Northern Ireland so the economy is relatively stable but we’ll see what happens to the private sector when furlough comes to an end in September and October.”

Because Indie Füde deals direct with smaller suppliers, McDowell and co-owner Laura Bradley are not under any pressure to be placing orders from wholesale catalogues at the moment.

They won’t start looking at orders and the volumes needed until October. He says: “It’s really flexible right through to the middle of December.”

Indie Füde will also not be going too festive with its offer. “We try to steer away from things like chocolate Santas because they scare the life out of me and we have been caught out with them in the past.”

One new thing that McDowell might introduce this year is subscription boxes that can be gifted on Christmas Day and then sent out to people over the course of six or 12 months. COVID has afforded him the time to explore the concept and he hopes that it will be up and running soon.

Val Berry,

Hayley & Clifford,

“Whether or not we have another lockdown and, let’s face it, we might, people have had a really tough time and they’re going to want to treat themselves and treat their families,” says Val Berry, predicting a big festive period.

The deli owner has hopes that the extra customers picked up during lockdown will stick with the business at Christmas and is even hoping that the new habits of these COVID customers will allow her to stock a few different lines. “Our Christmas ambient range is all about gifting and we’re continuing with that, but we are thinking about getting some new lines in that would normally fall in the ‘Christmas grocery’ category, like chestnuts and Christmas puddings, because the demand for grocery items went through the roof during lockdown.”

Hoping to divert some of the extra festive footfall Berry is investing in a new online store to replace the “basic” one set up in response to the huge appetite for deliveries during COVID. 

“It’s something we had been thinking about anyway, but lockdown forced our hand and brought it forward. But we’re going to turn that into a proper online shop in time for Christmas,” she says.

Not without her reservations, though, Berry has pinned her hopes on a big December after putting in a bumper order this year, roughly 20% bigger than previous years, she says. “We’ve just finished our ordering and we’re banking on it being busy. And that’s been a nightmare because we’re trying to plan for something which is months away and we don’t know what’s going to happen next week.”

Phil Gunton,

H Gunton,

Phil Gunton says he was starting to get Christmas brochures in May with the orders wanted by the end of July. But, given uncertainty about customer numbers, he is concerned that risk is all on him.

“When we order, they only have to order what is required for the most part, so no risk to themselves of excess stock,” he says. “We on the other hand have to guess what to stock with the added problem of whether we will have anyone in the shop. On many lines we only get one chance to order.”

Gunton says he is not confident that he will get the required customer numbers through his doors in December. “During the three weeks to Christmas, we have had anything up to 100 people in the shop at any one time. If social distancing is still ongoing we will have four,” he says. “As we will not have any idea whether this will be lifted by then or not, we can’t possibly ascertain what to order. To get the same number of customers through the shop we had in Christmas week last year, four at a time would take around two weeks, open 24/7.” 

Gunton is trying to work out a plan for late night opening and appointment nights, as well as doing more home deliveries and collections, as the shop has been doing them daily during the last four months.

“One of the other ways we are trying to avoid excess stock on the 24th December is that we have shied away from many of the goods packaged with Christmas pics or mentions of it on the labels. At least we may be able to sell them after Christmas.”

Read the latest issue of Fine Food Digest here.

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