When England went into lockdown last March, Cathryn Sanders feared the retail business she had ploughed her life into was facing the end.
Having run a small shop in Hessle for two years selling a wide range of bespoke scented wax products she makes at home, she had established a loyal band of customers who returned regularly for her specialist niche products and exceptional customer service.
Her small Over the Moon Scents shop in Prestongate had been the heartbeat of the business, where customers would come and choose custom-made products – from home diffusers and bath bombs to mini-melts and candles – and to enjoy Cathryn’s warm welcome.
However, lockdown didn’t bring downfall, but an unexpected boost in online sales that actually saw turnover increase 25% year on year by the end of 2020.
That success enabled Cathryn to reopen her retail store last week – but now in new premises offering shop space three times bigger than her previous store, and a large storage area.
She has even taken on a general manager and is looking for two apprentices to work in the new shop while she spends her time focusing on creating products in her workshop at home (she is now having to build a second in her garden) to meet growing demand.
“It has been crazy really as I can remember shutting up the shop at the start of the lockdown last March and fearing that would be the end of the business,” said Cathryn, who worked in adult social care before launching her retail venture in 2017.
“I’d worked so hard to get to where I was. I started in 2017 by trading from home and markets and through home based parties before opening the shop, so it was a worrying time when that was all put under threat. We were also buying a house at the time the country went into lockdown.
“Just a few months earlier I’d actually invested in a new website to build on the wonderfully supportive customers I had who returned time and again looking for a special gift, and recommended me to others. I was keen to grow the business but did really fear we’d not come through.”
Website with online shopping proved vital in lockdown
Cathryn’s decision to invest in a new website, which she launched in November 2019, proved a masterstroke as it meant that despite being forced to shut up shop, she was still able to take orders online – and sales for Over the Moon Scents rocketed.
“It was unbelievable really,” Cathryn recalled.
“Before the lockdown we’d probably send out around 30 orders a week. It just went up and up and I can remember one week, about a month into the lockdown, when we had to send out 670 parcels. I had to ask my husband, who is a builder, to help.
“The sales then continued throughout the year and we ended up 25% up on the previous 12 months, and we’ve maintained that level of sale this year.”
Cathryn says that running a business in lockdown encouraged her to be brave and try new methods of marketing, including doing her own live videos on Facebook to drive sales over the festive period, a marketing approach she continues to use today.
The success in lockdown was key to her being able to expand her business, enabling her to take the 1,680 sq ft unit in Hull Road, Hessle, which was refurbished and made ready for the grand retail reopening as lockdown restrictions were further eased in England last week.
“It has been really wonderful to be back in the shop and welcoming customers again, and to do so in such lovely, pleasant surroundings is really special,” Cathryn added.
“The old shop served a purpose for us but it was limited in space and facilities. This shop feels right. The bright, comfortable surroundings match the products and customer experience we have always provided.
“We had 200 people come through the door on our first day last Tuesday and the feedback we have had has been amazing. It’s great to be back welcoming people and giving them a nice shopping experience. We are hoping we can carry on, and do even better, than we have over the past year.”
Success shows there is still a thirst for shopping in towns and villages
Paul White, agency director of Hull-based commercial property specialists Garness Jones, handled the property deal that saw Cathryn take over the premises on a six-year lease.
The property was previously home to William Hill bookmakers, and a schedule of dilapidation was used to help fund its refurbishment ready for Cathryn to convert it into a stunning new home for her store.
Mr White said: “The impact of Covid-19 and the repeated lockdowns has of course had a negative impact on many businesses, but equally many have thrived throughout the past year, as has Cathryn’s business thanks to her success online, driven of course by the quality of her products.
“Cathryn has always recognised the importance however of customer interaction for her business. People like to buy from her and enjoy the customer service she provides when visiting her shop. It is with that in mind that she hasn’t gone down the route of being solely an online business.
“We have already in this past week, with retail stores reopening across the industry, the thirst of the general public to get back out and shop on the High Street and in our cities, towns and villages. That is why we are confident the retail sector will bounce back strongly from the past year.”