Snow way out: Three Scottish retailers tell all

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This winter snow caused havoc in Scotland, say Rox, Pebbles and Brazen

Heavy snowfall in the run up to Christmas cost UK retailers £110 million a day with Scotland one of the worst affected areas. Three Scottish jewellers tell Professional Jeweller their tales of damage to shops, disappearing footfall and delivery dramas. 

Seriously wintery weather swept the UK in the run up to Christmas with retailers losing an estimated £110 million a day. While the weather chaos was widespread, nowhere suffered more than Scotland.

The snow was so heavy in December that drivers were left stranded overnight on the M8 between Glasgow and Edinburgh, causing Scottish transport minister Stewart Stevenson to resign, and it was clear just how serious the weather was becoming when major grocers Sainsbury’s and Tesco halted deliveries to Scottish shoppers. The weather caused the closure of Scottish airports, a near breakdown in postal services and prompted officials to advise Scots against any travel that was not absolutely necessary.

Scotland’s shoppers huddled indoors and it was a brave few who braced sub-zero temperatures and snow drifts to visit the high street. With much of the worst weather hitting in December, Scottish jewellery retailers were hit at the most crucial trading time of year, the last few weeks before Christmas.

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Rox, which has shops in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen, was badly affected by the wintery conditions, as were Pebbles’ stores in Bo’Ness and Edinburgh and retail jeweller Brazen in Glasgow was hit particularly hard. Beleaguered but not beaten, these three retailers share their tales.

 

KYRON KEOGH, MANAGING DIRECTOR, ROX…

“Glasgow was paralysed and all of our post stopped. A small number of orders were affected and we contacted the customers and made them aware of what was going on and they were all very kind, completely understood and really entered into the spirit.

"Footfall was definitely down for a couple of days but the online business did see quite a jump because people were stuck at home shopping. It wasn’t quite enough to equal out the difference between the reduced spending in store but we have six shops so to get that equalisation would have been a bit of a leap of faith to be fair.

"Because stock wasn’t going anywhere we had the stock on the shelves ready to fulfil the orders online, all we couldn’t do was send them out in the post. As soon as we knew there was a problem we sent out an email explaining the issues to our customers and we got a really positive response, everyone understood. It’s turned into the old blitz spirit. We’re all in the same boat and we just have to get on with it.

"This is a fact of life now, winter is always going to get more brutal. Thankfully we have a strong online business as well as strong stores so we can handle this. We didn’t close stores but the shops with longer opening hours did close earlier.
With more bad weather looming we’ve seen more shoppers out now trying to make the most of being able to actually get out. We had contingency plans in place this year after the snow this time last year. Fundamentally our shops can operate on a skeleton staff but we had the chance to put staff up in hotels if we needed to.”
 

 

JAMES SCOTT, SALES DIRECTOR, BRAZEN…

 

“It’s not been the most fantastic season so far. We had Ana De Costa and Sarah Ho of Sho Fine Jewellery coming up from London for a customer evening but their flights were cancelled and then the trains were cancelled.

"We had around 10cm of snow fall here and over Glasgow city centre so none of our invited guests could make it to the customer evening either. People either couldn’t travel because of the cancellations or had children who attend school and couldn’t get there because of the weather so they had to stay in with them. The original night was cancelled then we rescheduled but the same thing happened again.

"The pipes at the shop couldn’t handle the thawing water and flooded our back shop. Thankfully there was no damage at all though.

"Our footfall has dramatically reduced. To be honest it’s been terrible. We’ve not even had any online sales. I’ve been looking at comparisons from last year and day on day, week on week, month on month, and it doesn’t make for pleasant reading.

"There was snow last year but it wasn’t this bad and it wasn’t this early and now it’s coming again. The thing is there is nothing we can do to prepare for it even though we know it’s coming.

"We’re in the Merchant City area of Glasgow and we’re a destination store. People come to us because they know about us, they don’t often just drop in and it’s not the easiest place to get to when there’s snow.

"Stock deliveries have become the bane of my life. We can’t get bullion at the moment. We’ve been waiting for 10 days for one bullion delivery. This is having a huge effect on bespoke products. We’re paying extra for couriers to try and speed the process up but it’s an uphill battle that doesn’t really have a good outcome.

"You literally have just got to deal with it. Because our sales are a considered purchase people aren’t going to suddenly panic buy once the snow is gone.

"We’ve always had an excellent previous performance, doing better every year, year on year, but in order to keep that up this year we need to do 16 or 17 transactions per day from now until Christmas Eve.”

 

VAL TROTTER, OWNER, PEBBLES

“It’s just been dreadful. We have the two shops, one in Bo’Ness and one in Edinburgh and I think the one in Edinburgh has been hit the hardest. There have been days when we haven’t been able to open because we’ve not been able to get anyone there.

"People have not been able to get out and about and are just not shopping, which has obviously had a huge impact on footfall and takings.

"Deliveries also have been massively affected. We’re still waiting for stock in some cases. Still even now, nearly two weeks on we’re waiting for pieces that have been held up in depots, it’s getting quite ridiculous.

"Royal Mail is managing to get things through but some couriers have such a backlog that we’re just in a massive queue. We have managed to find a way round this by getting duplicate orders sent out by special delivery so we will have stock but it’s just another thing to stress about.

"We had a damaged roof at the beginning of December. The cast iron guttering on the flats above the shop in Bo’Ness fell to the ground and for safety reasons the police shut the road. Because of that we had no passing traffic on a Saturday afternoon, the first Saturday in December no less.

"Bo’Ness is a small town and we try to run events in the town centre. The weekend that the guttering came down there were reindeer in the town centre. There were lots of people in the town but none of them could get into our shop. That was the most frustrating experience. It’s not been the busiest of years for anyone but the one time the town was busy we couldn’t trade, it was awful.

"There’s only one other shop and a cinema on our road in Bo’Ness and the other shop could be entered from the other side of the road, so it was just us who couldn’t open for business. We are getting back to normal now but there is more snow forecast.

"We can’t even put any measures in place to ensure the guttering doesn’t fall again. Because we rent our shops, it’s completely out of our hands. Equally, for any major repairs to take place scaffolding will need to go up which will block the window displays.

"We’ve been working with social media such as Twitter and Facebook to promote our website and we have been trying to push our customers there to try and counteract some lost sales. We’re keeping in touch with our customers as much as possible, including emailing our database with updates.

"The website is starting to pick up now but it is nowhere near the millions and billions of pounds that we see publicised that are supposedly spent online. The difference in our online sales have no way been enough to equalise what we’ve lost in footfall and store trade.

"It’s not an easy time. At the end of the day the weather is the one thing you can’t control and when it’s against you there’s not a lot you can do. We’ve had to cut right back on our staff and do most things ourselves. It feels as if it’s never ending.”
London for a customer evening but their flights were cancelled and then the trains were cancelled." 

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