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Party retailers respond to UK’s third lockdown

Party retailers and balloon decorators have been responding to the UK’s latest lockdown measures with a mixture of determination and positivity, as it was announced this week (Monday 4 January) that the UK would be entering a third – and hopefully final – lockdown.

The 8pm announcement revealed that all non-essential retail would be physically closed from Tuesday 5 January until at least February half term (w/c 15 February), with the possibility of an extension to those dates. Tuesday morning saw the UK Government announcing a range of additional grants and financial packages for businesses – including retailers – which have been a source of reassurance for those who qualify for the help.

In the meantime, many retailers, party organisers and decorators are continuing to trade online or through click and collect, making the most of social media and other opporunities to connect with their customers.

Here’s what some of them had to say…

Paula Ardron-Gemmell, Pink Tree Parties

“As a retailer it feels like business as it has been throughout Tier 4 and previous lockdowns – we have procedures in place, COVID risk assessments completed and our Trading Standards letters safely to hand to continue to provide balloons and partyware via click and collect or contactless deliveries. We roll with the punches and develop new methods for our customers to order from us and buy with confidence, feeling safe and secure in our procedures.

We were in Tier 3 until 30 December so we could open the doors to customers. We had considerably more collections the week of Christmas than usual, but a huge proportion of our work was birthdays, not Christmas, though Christmas Eve balloons were a big bonus this year. We have however missed all the large events and decorating jobs that usually see our bank balance boosted considerably for the next few months, so while we’re incredibly busy, each job has less profit as the time spent with individual customers is vastly increased.

We’ll see the current trend of low income and low profit until big events return, we know that and are incredibly grateful for the grants and flexible furlough which allow us to retain our trained staff even though there’s no need to have five of us in the shop for the foreseeable future. We are a lot more focused on developing extra pillars of our business and having no interruptions in the shop means we can focus on our business plans going forward.

Our NABAS PLI insurance covers us to trade, as does confirmation from Trading Standards. We have our COVID risk assessments and procedures in place and have been following these since March, which makes this lockdown easier, as the unknown element is removed. We know we can survive this financially and we’re protecting both ourselves and our customers as much as we possibly can. Providing safe happiness to our customers and piece of mind to them is so important – we don’t take any unnecessary risks, but we need to trade for Pink Tree to survive – we may not be making the usual profits, but all income sees us not falling into debt.

We hope that society unites and does as it’s told sensibly – if collecting anything (not just from us) then combine it with essential journeys, maintain social distancing and be kind to each other. These last nine months have shown the best and worst in people and everyone needs to man up, take responsibility for their own actions and focus on getting an end to this as soon as possible; healthy and happy with a greater appreciation of the small things in life.”

Paula Ardron-Gemmell, Pink Tree Parties, Preston

Kate Moore, Jollyjesters

This third lockdown was inevitable given the upsurge in cases, but it does feel like we’re back to square one. I also think it’s being abused by shops which are classing themselves as ‘essential’, such as Wilko’s, The Range and others, just because they sell a few food, DIY or babycare items. Until more people start to use more common sense instead of trying to find loopholes, we’ll be no closer to getting our freedoms back.

We were able to continue trading physically, but apart from a couple of elves and Santa suits there was no demand pre-Christmas. The 27th-31st is traditionally our busiest week, but we took not one penny during that whole period. I had two customers booked in for NYE but when we went into Tier 4 they phoned to cancel. Luckily I hadn’t invested any money in stock and I no longer have to pay out any wages. Thanks to my new best friend, Grant Funding, I should be able to ride this one out, but the roof repairs might have to wait. 

We won’t be trading until we’re out of lockdown, and then by appointment only, as per the last few months. I’m too jaded to set up an e-commerce website – been there, done that and it wasn’t for me, plus I’d have to start as a small fish in a big pond (which is also not for me!)

Whatever losses the individual shops are suffering, the wholesalers must be suffering a hundredfold, so I hope they will still be in business when this is over. Without them, it’s not going to be easy for the retailers to pick up where we left off.”

Kate Moore, Jollyjesters, Derby

Shirlee Gibbs, The Dressing Up Shop

“Sadly in my area this lockdown is a must with very high Covid rates. Our Christmas trade was surprisingly good, but I closed on Christmas Eve, transferred my phone line to my mobile and have offered fill and collect on my balloon section.

I have been back into the shop to pack and store Halloween and Christmas stock and helped customers where necessary. I was unable to set up a drop shipping route but will possibly try again in the future.

I intend to carry this on as January and February aren’t usually hugely busy. If the schools go back we might have Book Week but I’ll see how that pans out before ordering anything new.

My council have been very supportive both mentally and financially so I hope to survive what the next few months bring. I have managed to connect with other businesses due to this crisis and it has been a very pleasant experience. That has been wonderful support too!”

Shirlee Gibbs, The Dressing Up Shop, Aldershot

Justin Heaven, Fantasy World

“I will be surprised if many costume shops survive this period – and I do wonder what the suppliers plans are for the future. I have been surprised at some of the online trade – we sold a load of Santa hats after Xmas for example, so there is still a little business out there!
The grants which are available for retailers offer some help – but that is nothing compared to what we’ve lost. We usually do between £20,00 – £30,000 the week between Xmas and New Year. This year we took £420!

It is going to be difficult to re-open down the road, with the positive mental attitude and party spirit customers expect from shops like ours. I think many of us will be going online only, but I can’t see that providing the same income or experience as a real life shop.”

Justin Heaven, Fantasy World, York

“There is not a lot we can say, as we are all in the same difficult situation. I do not trade online, so sadly my business is in zero mode financially. But onwards and upwards; we will hang on in there.

We have started to eBay some of the costumes from our hire deptartment to try and make a small amount of income while also making room in our hire rails, as we do have a huge hire deptartment stock!

We are in lockdown at home, so hopefully customers will contact us by email if there is anything we can do to help or if they need to purchase something. I cannot wait to get the vaccine and return to the shop!

Jean Harper, Masquerade, Watford

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