Lockdown for a local shop: Sound Bites wholefood shop, Derby

How have small businesses coped with lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic? We spoke to Kirby Markham, co-op member at Derby's wholefood shop, Sound Bites.

Have customer patterns changed?

The week before we closed the shop physically (a week before we were told to) we took double what we normally would in that week. April was more or less typical when averaged out, but by the end of May we are seeing quite a decrease, of more than 25%.

Before lockdown we had between 25 and 35 delivery customers per week. The week prior and the first week of lockdown, we suddenly had 165, but there's been a decline in orders each week since then, and people are across the board ordering less also as they have been well stocked up. Deliveries now vastly outnumber collections from the shop, which are at most 10 in a day, sometimes just one.

We have quite a few orders being put in by folks that are far away to ensure their family here are supplied - including someone from Nepal for her elderly parents!

How is the relationship with customers?

We've had some beautiful cards made by kids and some heartfelt notes - telling us we've been a real lifeline for access to fresh produce and to help them feel safe by arranging deliveries. We've done veg boxes for NHS workers, and others who don't have the time to shop for themselves right now, and for very isolated elderly people, and it has been very rewarding to be part of something that matters right now during this crisis.

What about your suppliers?

Our suppliers have been utterly slammed by workload, and it has been difficult to face such intense demand from people. Obviously working further apart in warehouse teams means orders can't just be ramped up and shipped out, so that has been a nightmare.

Many smaller stores have seen a huge shift in product preference toward dry staples, so chilled goods turn up with a shorter shelf life. We've suffered a lot of wastage on otherwise normally very saleable items, so we've had to reduce the range.

How are you adapting, now and for the near future?

We weren't and aren't designed to work like this, but we've managed a lot of difficult weeks to do our best for the community. Having to furlough the majority of staff has been perhaps the strangest part of this experience. On the other hand, meeting new customers has been an opportunity to gain fresh feedback, and fingers crossed, some of them will stay with us for the long term.

It is really difficult to anticipate what will come. I worry for the long term impact on our business, we don't have a large enough shop floor that we can have more than a couple of people in at any one time to shop in a socially distanced way, and who is going to want to queue outside in bad weather?

Many people will also likely be able to continue working from home, affecting the lunch period which was previously the busiest time of our trading day, and will also cause a huge decline in 'immediately consumable' products. The shift to online shopping will for many also be a permanent change. It is much easier to impulsively shop when you can look at and handle goods than it is virtually, so I think overall spend will remain less.

Do you have a message about supporting independent ethical shops?

We want to say thank you to our supporters. It truly means so much to us. Most people work in independent businesses like ours because of the passion not the pay. To be able to keep our projects running, it means more than words. It might not always be faster, more convenient or cheaper than your other options out there - but we go the extra mile, we put our heart into what we do, and hopefully that comes through!

Free Issue

Sign up now to our email newsletter for a free digital copy of Ethical Consumer magazine.

Sign up now for our email newsletter