Despite the severe challenges experienced by the whole industry in 2020, a review of business achieved over the past 12 months indicates that 40% of Houlden Members report achieving higher revenues than in 2019. Chief Executive, Helen Haddow, provides an insight into how the Group and Members view the year ahead, business during the Festive period and lessons learnt in 2020.
Our Members report that they have entered the New Year in a stronger financial position than anticipated. The pandemic necessitated astute management of overheads in 2020, which hand in hand with Government support though Furlough schemes, rates holidays and supportive grants, have impacted positively on their outlook for the year ahead.
However, until the vaccine is rolled out and restrictions are lifted, the first quarter will still be extremely tough but drawing on lessons learnt in 2020, Members remain both financially better placed than anticipated and optimistic.
In light of this, we are planning two face to face meetings in 2021. Due to current restrictions and the need for flexibility, Principals of member companies will be invited to a planning meeting in June where they can collectively share strategies for 2021.
This will be followed by a Suppliers Exhibition in early September. Members are keen to support their supplier base which has been hard hit as retailers have concentrated on risk adverse strategies of selling existing stock rather than investing in new lines.
Reflections on the 2020 Festive Period
Most Members saw a drop in November revenues with online sales, although strong, not compensating for the significant business that is usually taken at customer events during this period. However, once they had the opportunity to re-open, many experienced “record breaking results with remarkable sales” in December, despite being open for only part of the month.
This was attributed in the main to pent-up consumer demand and their customers’ continuing value of the in-store experience.
Retailers in cities though may have not fared so well due to the lack of office staff, less Christmas trips to shopping centres impacting on the overall level of customers, and restrictions on travel and opening hours.
Key lessons learnt in 2020
Despite the extreme gravity and impact of the pandemic, COVID-19 acted as an accelerator across the industry, heralding changes in business practices and consumer behaviour. Houlden Members showed great resilience and creativity, responding quickly to the ever-changing restrictions in the marketplace.
Members looked at ways to do business differently, with the acceptance of the virtual means of communication and, especially, they shared opportunities and ideas as a group. They quickly and decisively set up private appointment systems, proactively stayed in contact with customers, offered click and deliver and click and collect, and improved their online and digital presence – the last proving to be the most significant sales accelerator.
Members’ predictions at the start of lockdown of a reduction in revenue between 25% to 40% on a typical year, proved not to be the case. Mini booms were recorded post lockdown. Shop Local and the opportunity for jewellers to capture disposable income resulted in a number of retailers bucking the trend – over 80% in the case of Members. On average revenues of Houlden members were less than 10% down on those of 2019 with over 40% of them reporting higher figures in 2020.
To summarise, Houlden lessons learnt from 2020 include:
- Business has changed significantly and for the future.
- Importance of reacting quickly and decisively to changes in the economy and marketplace.
- Need to be adaptable, innovative, and resilient.
- Importance of taking tough/bold decisions quickly.
- Mindset of looking for opportunities from adversity.
- Importance of looking after your team – repaid by exceptional loyalty and performance.
The Houlden Perspective
Our whole focus during this last year has been to support in every possible way Members whilst dealing with the challenges facing the industry, to ensure that they were not isolated or alone and that they derived the maximum benefit of collective solutions.
We introduced new initiatives such as the monthly discussion group with topics driven by Members’ needs, with for example a focus on Brexit as we all gain experience in dealing with the changed processes – sharing information with Suppliers through regular communications.
Thanks to the support from Members and Suppliers, we enter 2021 with a great sense of hope. We are committed like everyone else in the industry to navigate our way out of this current situation – and by working collaboratively with Members, Suppliers and others in the sector, we will all emerge stronger and more robust.