Interview with Sue Dronfield of Baby Barn Pram & Nursery Centre
The Baby Barn & Pram Centre is a family-owned nursery retail business, founded in 1992 by Sue and Ian Dronfield and now the largest independent baby equipment store in Warwickshire. We caught up with Sue to find out how customer service remains a top priority – especially through lockdown – and how Covid has enabled them to embrace a digital marketing strategy.
Tell us a bit about The Baby Barn and why you decided to set up?
“We spotted an article in Farmers Weekly, offering a franchising opportunity with Nippers. I was a new mum at that point, but I had retail, management and advertising experience – and the old grain barn here atMarton Fields Farm was lying empty and redundant – so we decided to go for it! We remained a franchise for 12 years until going independently.”
What sets you apart from other nursery retailers?
“We’re a destination store, a shopping experience with a difference. We strive to offer a personal, professional service in a relaxed and friendly environment. We’re not on the High Street and thanks to our location (in the middle of a field!) we can offer parking right outside the store.”
What sets you apart from online retail?
“We carry a good cross-section of stock, some of which we’ll rarely sell – but it’s good to show as a comparison as it helps customers to make a well-informed decision, something that’s harder to do online. Customer service is paramount to us and we want appointments to be a stress-free experience for parents. We aim to go the extra mile by offering free delivery, free storage, free assembly – even free loans. We have a dedicated area for coffee, tea, cake and local ice cream, and customers can even buy eggs from our smallholding!”
You pride yourself on being a family business – why is that so important?
“My daughter Lottie was just 9 months old when we opened and while she was once our ‘chief demonstrator’ – now it’s my grandson Freddie’s turn! It’s been great that my family are ready to take the business to the next level. Rather than pushing products, we provide a really personal touch and I love customer interaction, especially the repeat business from one generation to the next!”
How has Covid changed the way you do business?
“It’s made us look at digital marketing more closely and we’ve finally gone online after being quite against it! We continue to provide a personal service and still upload our values – we don’t want to be the bricks and mortar which leads shoppers to purchase online – the customer experience is still so important, it’s not just the price. And supporting local is more important than ever, especially for independent retailers like us.”
What do you look for from a brand?
“Brands need to maintain their standards so that we can, so we look for product quality, reliability, margin and after-sales service. Well-planned marketing campaigns, in-store POS and speed are also important – brands can’t rely just on the retailer to market the product.”
Are you excited about opening your doors again?
“We’re hearing our customers say they can’t wait to come shopping again and have a browse, to touch and feel and enjoy buying baby goods – so, yes, we’re counting down to the 12th April! Because we’re a destination store, it makes it easier for the appointment system to work and we want to be able to handle the return to store safely and to provide an enjoyable experience.”
What advice do you have for anyone setting up in nursery retail?
“Research the market, have plenty of funding and know your rights!”
What are your plans for 2021 and beyond?
“We’ll continue to develop the website, especially growing our monthly blog which addresses concerns that mums and dads might have, as well as lighter stories such as Freddie’s adventures with the lambs.”
Has lockdown had any positives for your business?
“We’ve had lots of customers thanking us for the zoom appointments, for being online and offering personal advice and our Click & Collect service has been really appreciated. We’ve had more interaction with our social media, too, which is paying off, and collaborations with other local businesses within Warwickshire which has been great. After a particularly stressful start to the year with Brexit and Covid, stock delays and price increases, I think nursery retailers have come together more closely as a team. Everyone is helping each other out and we’re looking forward to Harrogate in October to say thank you in person!”