Shop talk: Artichoke Collection founder Sarah Simonds reveals how she’s keeping her business going during the lockdown

“At the moment our only source of income is our online business”

How is business at the moment, given the current lockdown situation?

When the ban on gatherings of more than two people was announced last month, £35K was wiped off my turnover for summer. This is because we’ve had to cancel all of our planned pop-up events. Two days later and our bricks-and-mortar shop was also forced to close. How much money we’ll lose as a result of this remains to be seen, as we are only four weeks into lockdown. At the moment our only source of income is our online business.

What steps have you taken to keep Artichoke going during this time?

I have bought my entire shop home so that I can grow our online offer. At the same time I’m keeping in touch with fellow boutique owners and my suppliers, many of whom have become friends over the years. I feel very strongly that as an industry we are only going to get through this by working with rather than against each other.

Have you revised your your e-commerce business? If so, how?

For the past three weeks I have been spending hours each day uploading every item of footwear, clothing and jewellery that we would have sold in our physical store or pop-ups onto our website.  I am almost two thirds of the way through. Most are items that we only carry in small runs, so normally we wouldn’t bother to put them online. We used to consider it too time consuming for the return,  but I think that we’ll have to re-think that in the future. I am supporting the increased online presence with daily videos that I record in advance where I am wearing and talking about items that are available for sale online. This enables our customers to see the garments on a real woman and increases their confidence in making a purchase.

“Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that I’d become a model, videographer and social media guru in my mid fifties”

How are you sending e-commerce orders out in practical terms?

I am going to the post office every other day at the same time that I am checking the shop.

Are you receiving many returns? How are you processing these?

It is too early to say what our returns are going to be like. Usually we have a vey low returns ratio because our website offering is restricted to a small selection of items that most customers have bought before. With a greatly increased offer this is bound to change, but I am not sure how much at the moment.

Why did you introduce Clear Pay to the site and how easy was this to install?

I have a shop on the Down Your High Street platform and could see how Clearpay transformed their business, so thought that it would be worth trying. Installation was very easy.

What are the main benefits of offering another payment option for your customers and is this something you will continue?

I’ve been running Clearpay on my website for about six months now and not one customer has used it as a payment option. At the moment my customers clearly do not see that it offers any benefits to them. This may change as it becomes more recognised in the UK market so I see no reason to remove it.

Have you learned anything new about running your business during this time?

I am learning new skills daily. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that I’d become a model, videographer and social media guru in my mid fifties, but this has become my reality! Most importantly, this time is making me re-evaluate where  my business will come from in future (if we survive this) and what levels of investment, both in terms of time and finance, need to be considered.

Sarah Simonds is the owner of Artichoke Collection, which operates an e-commerce site and bricks-and-mortar store in Swaffham, Norfolk