How one business has thrived during the lockdown – and three important things they’ve learned from it

Has COVID-19 floored your business? Discover what Gaynor Humphrey from Best Years has learned from the pandemic – and how it’s helped her business thrive during it.

Anyone who is in the business of generating sales has a tendency to act like the dog in Up. Our attention is captured by a new possibility, we have squirrel moments, and off we go forgetting all and everything in the pursuit of the new opportunity.

But if this pandemic has taught us anything as a small business, it is that having a spread of business means that when things change you can still trade profitably.

How we minimised the risk of the decline of the high street

We wholesale eco, green and ethically sourced toys, which means that we sell in to shops across the high street and internet. Over the last couple of years we have concentrated on increasing our sales to businesses which are not retailers, so places such as museums and suppliers into education. 

This was our way of minimising the risk to the perceived decline of the high street. Over half of the trade shows we exhibited at, and half of all our marketing spend, was directed not at retailers but other routes to market. 

It also influenced our product development. Museums and educational suppliers like brightly coloured toys with play value rather than cuddly comfort toys. They like their toys to be themed, so dinosaurs or seaside or space and so our ranges developed to meet these needs.

Things were great… until COVID-19 struck

On the whole it was a successful strategy, our sales grew and by the beginning of this year half of all our sales were not in to traditional outlets.

This was great until the pandemic struck. The very first businesses to shut were the museums and not long after so did the schools. Our carefully constructed strategy to minimise risk looked to have failed as our network of outlets all closed.

However after the initial shock of the lockdown our sales came back very strongly and it was our baby range which drove the volume. 

One range (and small, independent shops) saved us

Although we had concentrated on non-retail customers and non-retail toys, we had maintained other ranges.

We had organic baby comforters, a range of unfashionable pastel rattles and some natural rubber toys which we had continued to manage and update over the years.

We also had some lovely, small, independent retailers and baby gift suppliers which we had continued to service and supply despite their volumes being considerably less than our key customers such as The Natural History Museum. 

As the lockdown continued our range of newborn baby toys started to sell at astronomic levels. Toys which had sold in their dozens were suddenly selling in their hundreds. Customers who had placed orders twice a year were ordering twice a month. Our cash flow came flooding back into the positive. 

Three important things we’ve learned about business from the pandemic

The past few months have taught us a lot about the importance of flexibility and diversification – lessons that are important to any business. Here are our three biggest lessons.

1) Don’t overlook small selling product lines or services

If you’re a jeweller you may make 90% of your sales through your range of bracelets. But if you still make necklaces and rings then the door is still open if, all of a sudden, rings become the ‘in thing’ and bracelets are out of style. 

2) Make every customer feel special – even the ones who don’t buy often

If almost all of your sales go to people who are geographically close to you, it doesn’t hurt to ensure that any more distant customers continue to feel treasured and wanted.

3) Get a website, even if you sell face-to-face

If you mainly sell at markets and outdoor events it’s still useful to have a good website, even if it normally only gives a trickle of sales.

Build a resilient business

To sum up, keep the doors open, keep freshening the designs of your less popular ranges, and make sure that your customers are across a variety of different business.

That way if you ever get floored by an unprecedented global pandemic you will still have inbuilt resilience in your business.

Best Years supply green, eco and ethical toys to anyone and everyone who wishes to buy them.

Photo by Sincerely Media