Rachel Jones used her loan from Transmit Startups to kit out her shop in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire.
She tells us how she’s playing her part in keeping the nation fed and learning how to adapt retailing for the post-pandemic high street.
Hi Rachel, give us a quick overview of your business journey up to the point of COVID-19
I’ve been passionate about environmental issues for as long as I can remember. I set up my store to provide a sustainable alternative to buying groceries and home products. Weighsted is a zero waste shop selling food and cleaning products as well as bathroom, kitchen and picnic lunch accessories such as sandwich bags and water bottles. Customers weigh what they need into reusable containers, meaning nothing goes to waste.
How quickly were you affected by the pandemic and what impact did this have?
Believe it or not, I’d only just re-opened the shop after floods in February which caused lots of damage. I was really looking forward to getting things back on track when this came along.
At first I thought I’d have to close down completely but when I read through the guidelines it transpired that, as a food retailer, I could stay open. In fact, local food and drink shops would turn out to play a really important role in helping to feed our local communities.
What steps did you take to minimise the impact/diversify your business?
I set up a click and collect service plus a delivery service for NHS staff and those unable to leave their homes. This cuts down on the number of people handling the food and eliminates direct contact between people. It means there’s very little queuing because customers literally grab a bag of their pre-ordered goodies and go.
How did you adapt your working practices?
I’ve had to set up a whole new set of working practices which are mostly based on email communication. People (including myself) have adapted well to this and it’s actually improving my sales significantly.
How did your customers and suppliers react?
The customers have been very kind and accommodating about the new things I’ve put in place. Many of the new customers have come because I have all the products they’re unable to get in the supermarkets and I can get them to them the very next day.
Suppliers have also been very supportive. At first they were struggling to get supplies but now I have very little problem getting everything I need.
How would you describe your experience of the crisis as an entrepreneur?
I feel I’ve had to make a few quick and quite radical changes to the way my shop runs but everything seems to be running quite well. The few hiccups I’ve had along the way have been very easily dealt with.
Have you taken any steps to cope with the crisis that could potentially lead to long-term changes for your business?
Our increased sales mean I’m able to employ someone to help me part-time. This is definitely something I will be doing in the future too.
I’ve also found a way of simplifying the whole process of shopping locally, using an app called Shopappy. This links customers to products and services in their area.
I’m going to put this into practice as soon as possible as the crisis has really raised awareness of how shopping needs to be more sustainable in future. This could revolutionise the way we work.
Have there been any unexpected outcomes from the experience?
Social media has really come into its own as people who are unable to leave the houses look for ways to get their shopping. I realised quickly that things need to be very visible and constantly updated. I’ve learned that people can relate better to imagery than written information too.
The most important thing I’ll take away from the experience though, is the way people come together for the good of others. A gentleman came the other day with a huge shopping list he had made for all of his elderly neighbours so they wouldn’t have to worry about leaving the safety of their homes.
Someone has even very kindly offered to do all of my deliveries for me on an electric bicycle!
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