OPINION: Five lessons I learnt from our pandemic experience – Jai Singh

Retailer Jai Singh explains how the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown has taught him and his team some valuable lessons in running his store

Lessons in home delivery from an independent retailer

When the Covid-19 virus arrived in March 2020, my store, like so many others, was confronted by an enormous increase in demand. It was a tsunami that crashed upon us and our staff. For the first month we tried our best to meet this demand by chasing stock from our regular suppliers and new sources to keep the shelves full and customers satisfied.

Lesson 1

There are limits to what we can do

It proved to be way beyond the limits of what we could cope with. My wife Mandeep and I, and our team, had discovered our breaking point and needed to change how we were running the business.

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Our solution was to reduce the store opening hours from 6am to 10pm to 9am to 5pm, equating to half our regular trading hours. I know this saved the business from being overwhelmed. It also protected our health and wellbeing. We returned to longer hours after the first lockdown was lifted and we now open at 6am and close at 9pm.

Lesson 2

When the everyday lines demand space and time promotions become irrelevant

With the huge level of demand continuing, we decided instore promotions were inappropriate. They took up store space that was desperately needed to enlarge the displays of high demand products. They took time to set up and manage, time we needed to maintain the much-increased replenishment supply operation.

They also gave away margin in an unnecessary way. There was just no place for promotions. I have not run an instore promotion since March 2020 and our customers have not yet demanded they return.

Lesson 3

Continue to support and invest in our community

The stress our community felt when the coronavirus pandemic hit came into the store. With the support of the local church and volunteers we were able to provide a delivery service to the elderly and vulnerable. A key benefit of our close relationship with our local community was how people offered their help in times of crisis, such as the Reverend Andy from the nearby St Paul’s Church.

Lesson 4

Understand how the customers use of the store has changed and act upon what you discover

Since a major store development in 2015, Mandeep and I have undertaken a constant series of range reviews. This has been necessary as our customers have changed how they use the store over time. Our main supply partner has provided their support by making the full Nisa range available to us.

Over the course of the pandemic we noticed our customers shifted their buying habits more and more towards the Nisa range, particularly for chilled products. The business decision to join Nisa was easy to make.

Lessons in home delivery from independent retailer Jai Singh

The change happened in July 2020, with plans of a minor store makeover. This did not happen. The ongoing demands of customers during the pandemic led to a delay and reassessment of the store. We decided a much bigger store replan was the correct approach, with significant increase and renewal of refrigerated display space. We are also covering our glass store front and have full-height fixtures, instead of stacks of promotional products.

Lesson 5

Set limits to what you do

The biggest challenge has been personal. Each of us has discovered what our personal limits are. This has led us to an understanding that just working longer and harder is no longer a viable way of running the store. During the first lockdown our two sons had to use the shop’s office as their classroom and play area, as neither of us could be at home to look after them.

Our solution has been to set a 40-hour-per-week limit on our involvement in running our business. This led to an evaluation of the day-to-day operation of the store, identifying the crucial tasks needed to keep the shelves full and the customers served.

The business is working well and our staff are happy to be recognised for the skills they have and responsibilities they have taken on. Mandeep and I have also much more clearly defined our roles as owners and senior managers.

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I now have more time with my sons and I’m able to go out into the countryside around Sheffield on a regular basis. I’ve even had time to develop a new hobby: flying a drone and filming many of the interesting place we visit.

Which leads us to one final lesson learned during the Covid-19 pandemic: train your employees to undertake more responsibilities so you’re able to spend time away from your business doing something creative you’re passionate about.

Find out more on our coronavirus information hub for retailers


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