Life in lockdown


My Gifts Trade Director Nikki Courtney writes: As we approached March 2020 our company was coming out of a difficult year due to apprehension about Brexit and a weaker pound. As My Gifts Trade and ECP Design, we had just unloaded our vans from our most successful trade fair in our 5-year history supplying gifts and home ware to retailers. We were hugely optimistic, had a massive order book and stock arriving by the pallet for all types of retailer. News of the pandemic felt a long way away in our busy warehouse.

Then press briefings began and each day the anxiety started to increase. Those who were saying it would blow over in a week became a little more muted. Then we were told non-essential businesses had to close one evening at 5pm. Our 32 employees understood this as it was too unsafe to come to work.

We felt until we had made some changes in how we worked, we couldn’t ensure everyone was safe, although we were under immense pressure to stay open. Some customers told us they would move their business if we didn’t. Those days were dark, struggling with the dilemma of commercial pressure and safety for our staff, ourselves and our families. Deliveries to garden centres were coming back faster than we could cope with. Retailers refusing what we had worked so hard to achieve, cancelled orders from retailers who didn’t have the decency to call and tell us.

The pressure mounted as each day there was little support for our small business. No Rates holiday, we were over the threshold on rateable value. The loan looked difficult. Years of investing our profits in diversifying our family business with over 50 years heritage into a wider product portfolio. It felt like we were slipping through the cracks.

Finally the word: Furlough. A lifeline that could keep us going whilst retailers were shut. We closed our doors. My father packed his briefcase, aged 72 and said goodbye to his office of over 30 years. Our customers agreed we should close. The anxiety immense. We worked tirelessly to secure a loan and claim furlough over the next three weeks.

The conversations between management staff started to turn to how do we open again, without any real direction. A group volunteered to clean the warehouse, a job not really done for a long time. We always seemed too busy! Bleach was sprayed everywhere, years of dust removed under benches and pallet bays. Demarkation areas all over our warehouse, one-way systems implemented, supplies of bleach and sanitiser secured.

We are now open again, pray the news of garden centres opening safely means we may be able to sell again. There is a lot of stock and we need help moving it. We are still here to serve and please our customers, with stock ready to supply.

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