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Progress: What firms can do to ensure a buoyant festive period this year

WILL Covid be the Grinch that steals Christmas?

With news of rising rates and tighter restrictions, the festive period is likely to look very different this year. Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland and the London New Year fireworks are already out of the picture and all of us are wondering how we can celebrate without breaking the law or spreading the virus.

December will be a crunch period for Britain’s businesses, many of which rely heavily on Christmas spending. Last December a survey of small businesses by Not On The High Street revealed that one in five businesses were so reliant on December trading that they would close if they had a bad time over the period.

‘Christmas is a crucial time for retailers, with the shopping starting as early as October,’ says Lisa-Marie Mallier of No Fluff Communications (nofluffcommunications.co.uk). ‘Sales increase dramatically as people purchase gifts, decorations and supplies to celebrate.’

While many are wondering about losses if lockdowns continue and people can’t go out, not all businesses are pessimistic.

‘I think Christmas will go nuts,’ says Alexandra Watson, who runs Wickfree Candles (wickfreecandles.co.uk). ‘As a parent, I know we want our kids to smile on Christmas so heaps of gifts and happy kids is the way forward.’

Experts are clear that, even if you’ve got a business that ought to thrive over the festive season, you will need to put in extra preparation to gain customers and ensure timely delivery this year.

Pivot your offering

During the spring lockdown, many entrepreneurs took their business offering online so it was easily available.

The festive pivot is similar, with companies changing either their mode of delivery or their products to suit a stay-at-home Christmas.

‘A lockdown Christmas can work in your favour as a small business,’ says Charlotte Balbier, who built a bridal brand (charlottebalbiermentor.com) and now mentors new entrepreneurs. ‘I think people will be celebrating Christmas in an even bigger way this year and will be going all out. Do not stand still or carry on as you were. Make the changes needed to be in line with this new way of doing business.’

Hands on: Fortune teller Amelie Appleby and jewellery designer Jade Sammour (below) are pivoting their businesses

Fortune teller Amelie Appleby (funfortuneteller.com) has already sorted her Christmas pivot.

‘The first three weeks of December are typically the busiest weeks of the year for me. Since the events industry is indefinitely on hold, I have adapted to provide online entertainment to corporate events and private parties via Zoom and other portals’ she explains.

‘The exciting thing is I can actually do more parties this year as I won’t have to travel between them, and I can also access a wider audience. Since lockdown, I have unintentionally developed a following in New York and have been repeatedly booked for online events there. I am looking forward to growing my customer base over the coming months and entertaining from the cosy comfort of my home!’

Jade Sammour, who usually sells her sterling silver jewellery at pop-up shops and Christmas parties (daintylondon.com), says there is so much uncertainty over Christmas retail that she has switched to offering online workshops.

‘I had a pop-up scheduled for a large london department store, which would have been epic. However due to the current poor footfall on Oxford Street they have just cancelled.

‘Therefore I am going to do a series of online jewellery-making workshops to teach clients how to create their own sterling silver Christmas gifts.’

Think wider…

Vaishali Shah, at branding group Creative ID (creative-id.com), says: ‘The internet has boosted the ability of small businesses to compete on the global stage.’

However they must ensure they are ready for international markets.

‘Is your website global friendly? Can customers purchase your products or services online?’ she asks. ‘Consider a currency-conversion facility to avoid confusion, if you expect overseas customers, and use inclusive imagery to help global customers find your products attractive,’ she adds.

…and think local

One of the major features of lockdown was a surge of warmth towards local stores and shops and many people will want to stay local for their physical Christmas shopping this year.

Kelly Wright, founder of plastic-free goods store The Refillery (therefillery.co.uk), credits community engagement with helping the business to survive.

‘We became a vital local hub but were also able to offer an online presence too,’ she says.

‘Communicate with your customers about procedure changes — this will help to reassure them.’

Lisa-Marie, at No Fluff, agrees that communication is important locally. ‘Small businesses should work with local media outlets, promoting good news stories, community-led initiatives, events and offerings. This is a free way to reach more people.’

Focus on the foundations

We are all aware of disruption caused by coronavirus after the first lockdown, so it’s vital to have strategies in place to counter this over Christmas. Sophia Procter, head of children’s tableware business Munchy Play (munchyplay.com), has ensured she has Amazon as a fulfilment partner for online selling this Christmas.

‘This means that, if a lockdown occurs, customers can still order our products online and have them delivered quickly. Even if post offices are closed, even if shops are closed, you still have a viable revenue stream.’

She also suggests taking a careful look at your supply chain, with British suppliers least likely to be disrupted in the event of a second lockdown.

‘This will make it much easier for speeding up delivery times and not having to wait for inbound shipping.’

Claire Bartlett, director at Arden Bookkeeping, says that now is the time to ensure you have all your records up to date so that you have a very clear idea of how your business is doing.

‘Make sure you are aware of all the support currently available to you from your bank or from other business relationships. Ensure you keep any new income streams that the first lockdown forced you to create going and improve on them if you can. These might make all the difference to survival.’

Embrace the ‘new normal’

This might not be the Christmas we all expected, but there’s plenty of goodwill to be harnessed. Lee Lam, founder of The UK’s Startup Partner (the-usp.co.uk), says: ‘Focus on the emotional aspects of Christmas and how your business might help bring families closer, even if they are physically apart.

‘A unique Christmas menu that can be delivered to different addresses at the same time, personalised gifts, nostalgia and hand-made themed goods, as well as competitions to provide a special day would all work well,’ he suggests.

‘Thank customers for sticking by you with a special gesture or gift. Extraordinary times calls for extraordinary measures and this is an opportunity to really show how much you value their loyalty.’

The experts

■ Vaishali Shah, serial and award-winning entrepreneur who now runs branding business Creative ID in Mayfair

■ Lisa-Marie Mallier, heads up No Fluff Communications, a free online community, backed up by a consultancy service

■ Charlotte Balbier, bridalwear entrepreneur and business mentor

■ Lee Lam, runs small business consultancy The UK’s Startup Partner

■ Claire Bartlett, director at Arden Bookkeeping in Solihull

‘We’ll want to make this December a bumper one’

Optimistic: Lauren is adapting her cooking club for Christmas

LAUREN PRENTICE runs an after school cooking club called Nutritional Ninjas (nutritionalninjas.co.uk) but every December she switches her focus to a seasonal offering called The National Elf Service, which sends elves round to visit local primary school assemblies.

‘This year with the restrictions in schools, I knew that we would have to do something different,’ she says.

‘We’ve completely pivoted to offer online virtual elf visits to schools around the UK.

‘We’re in the process now of building sets of Santa’s workshop, the North Pole Post Office and also Mrs Claus’ kitchen.

‘Even if schools have to go back to online learning, our visits will still be able to be enjoyed from home and can be watched within each ‘bubble’ so that it is totally Covid secure.’

The virtual visits come with parcelled-up books for the children so each pupil will receive a wrapped gift, just as they would have with a more traditional physical experience.Lauren says she is hopeful about the festive season, despite Covid.

‘I think that Christmas is the perfect opportunity for businesses to get back on track, whether we’re in lockdown or not.

‘Small businesses have had six months of downtime to come up with a great offering for Christmas and as long as we’re prepared to work within the guidelines there’s no reason why business can’t boom in the festive season.

‘Christmas is always a good time for business and I don’t think that 2020 is any different.

‘People will want to make this December a bumper one as they’ve missed so much already this year.’

national-elf-service.com

‘I’ll still be able to bring some gingerbread joy’

Gingerly: Emily has developed gift ideas for the festive period

WHAT could be more Christmassy than a gingerbread architect, creating everything from gobstopper helterskelters to scale models of Kensington Palace? But Emily Garland, who runs Maid of Gingerbread fears this Christmas will be very different.

‘I’m trying not to think too much about what it will look like this year because so much is still unknown,’ she says. ‘I’m putting all my efforts into preparing so I’ll still be able to bring gingerbread joy to people.’

As her large-scale installations aren’t in demand this year, Emily has focused on gifts such as giant gingerbread hearts and stars inspired by the lebküchen biscuits from Christmas markets.

‘This involved overhauling my kitchen set-up (including different equipment), sourcing eco postal materials, and having gift boxes designed, but I’m now ready to go.

‘One of my worries is there will be postal delays, but luckily gingerbread lasts a long time, so I’m encouraging everyone to pre-order well in advance.’ Emily has also had to cancel the in-person baking workshops she usually runs in Hackney, East London.

’I now teach all my biscuit-building skills and recipes online at The Biscuit Academy, which enables members to make their own biscuit show-stoppers at home. ‘As we get towards Christmas, I’m planning special masterclasses for members where I’ll teach how to make baked gifts as well as how to build the ultimate gingerbread house centrepiece.

‘So far 2020 has forced us all to adapt to new ways of doing things, so no matter what the festive season ends up looking like everyone will come together as best they can,’ she says.

maidofgingerbread.com