In a continuation of Natural Products Meets, Carol Dunning hosted a panel of store owners on 19 March to discuss retailing during and beyond the pandemic.

Speaking on the panel were Alan Martin, Food for Thought and Oliver’s Wholefood Store; Jason Pius and John Thorley, Love Health & Wellbeing; and Len Glenville and Mel Beard, Best Health Food Shop.

Dunning opened the session by asking whether each of the stores had observed any differences between the three national lockdowns and their impact on business.

“I think this lockdown’s been harder generally,” offered Martin. “The first one we kind of sailed through. There was almost that … ‘Blitz effect’, everyone pulling together and helping each together. We’d seen the biggest uplift in home deliveries during that first lockdown.” Martin says during the shortest of all the lockdowns, in November, extra services his stores had been providing saw a decline in demand. “This current lockdown has just been a bit of a pain I think, it’s been really tough. We’re clinging on to these dates that are five weeks apart, just waiting for things to open up. Kingston as a town has suffered really badly from way back before the pandemic.”

For Glenville and Beard, it has been a similar experience: “Everyone’s just fed up to the back teeth of it. You’ve seen stress levels of customers soar in this one … just hanging on to get out the other side of it. Footfall has been dire – people just not coming out. It just hit at a really bad time, coming out of Christmas. This third one has been the worst. We’re just … waiting for the next thing to open and the next thing to happen to try and restart,” commented Beard.

Pius and Thorley opened their first store in August – after an eight-month postponement – and found it ‘really difficult going’. “Sales were not really there as much as we thought they would be but it was to be expected. Then when the second lockdown happened … although the footfall hasn’t been there our sales have grown. We’re getting bigger spends, which has been fantastic for us. The Ormskirk store in the town has traded a little bit quieter whereas our store in the shopping centre has been a lot busier.”

To hear more about their experiences and the changes they made in-store to adapt to the situation, watch the session in full here.