Independent stationer, Sarah Laker, shares her lockdown experience so far.
Opening the shop in the morning and breathing in the heady aroma of ink, paper and pencils is, without doubt, my favourite part of the day. The promise of a new day, watching Marple come to life through my window - the children going to school, the childminders walking past on their way to the park, the endless stream of traffic as people go about their daily life. I took all this for granted, never for one moment realising how much I would miss it when it was gone, or even that one evening I’d be told by the government to close my shop for the foreseeable future.
Life is vastly different now, for all of us, in many ways. Initially, I sat at home not really know how I felt; angry, sad, lost and a whole host of other feelings. I really did not know what to do with myself after 14 years of opening my shop 6 days a week, I missed it greatly. I was getting daily emails, texts and social media messages from customers asking if the shop was open or if they could buy online. They were desperate for stationery and ink as they were working at home or needed supplies for home schooling and entertaining their children, so a plan began to form in my head.
Could I change the business around completely, increase the product range on my website and sell online for local delivery? I weighed up the risk to me and my family. I have a mum shielding next door and a daughter shielding at home both due to health issues. I spoke to my friend (who is a GP) about safe practices and slowly came up with a plan. I started by changing my website into “click ‘n’ deliver” only, stopping the postal side of things.
I am not going to lie and say it has been easy. It has not. Manually entering over 400 products on my website has taken hours. Hours and hours. I had to make forms for email and telephone enquiries, to plan how to receive orders from suppliers whilst ensuring my shop remained a ‘clean’ zone. My social media approach had to be completely changed too – a bright and cheerful newsfeed with photos of lovely stationery, things that are happening in the community and ideas of things to keep children entertained.
The first day I thought I had worked it all out: the enquiry forms were perfect, the shop looked like a warehouse to make picking easier, orders were coming in and it all seemed to go like clockwork until it came to delivering. I had put so much time and effort into everything else that I had not even thought about how I was going to plan my delivery route! That first round of deliveries was a disaster trying to rely on a combination of Google Maps and an outdated A-Z. Determined not to be beaten, I came home that night and found a delivery app.
Now I feel like I am running a completely different business! For 3 days a week I am in the shop in the morning, printing off orders, picking and packing, then delivering in the afternoons. Then 2 days a week I have the shorter commute to my kitchen table where I sit entering products onto my website, ordering stock, keeping accounts up to date and trying not to get distracted by the washing, cleaning and day to day family life. I try to keep the weekends free of work to take advantage of the slower pace of life and to rest from the busy week.
Now 5 weeks on, what have I learned? That life has changed and so have my expectations. That although I miss the hustle and bustle of the shop and seeing my customers over the counter, I can still serve my community and continue to make people smile with beautiful stationery despite the worrying and uncertain times we live in.
Stationery Supplies, Marple