JoJo Maman Bébé is leading a campaign to have nursery retailers classified as ‘essential businesses’. Concerned that high street retailers were subject to lockdown closure rules, we caught up with founder, Laura Tenison, to find out more…
Tell us about your campaign to have nursery retailers classified as ‘essential businesses’.
In the first lockdown we closed our stores without a murmur. We were really concerned about keeping our pregnant customers safe and of course did not know the impact of the virus on our teams and the general public. However, there is so much more understanding around the spread of COVID and who is most effected by the illness, so we are now more concerned about the anxiety and stress caused by our no longer being there to support and assist our customers at this new, changing and sometimes difficult time in their lives.
With the possible loosening of restrictions, will you still be pushing for this?
Yes of course. We all know that with local lockdowns we are likely to have to close different stores at different times. Whilst there is good news around the development of vaccines, we are fully expecting there to be enforced stores closures in the New Year and potentially throughout next year.
What are the concerns about closing and re-opening your shops?
The biggest issues are around updating customer information and our software systems and of course making sure our teams are ready and confident to come back to every changing rule. We have a very sophisticated order orchestration system which means that online orders are pushed to our stores if the warehouse stock has run out. They may also order for Click and Collect. However, closing the stores leaves orders pending in the system, which can have an adverse knock on effect on customer service. Whilst we have the option to monitor and adjust the software it causes confusion and inevitably customer orders are delayed or stock availability options are confusing online.
You have both online and high street offerings. How has JoJo Maman Bébé coped with the pandemic as a business?
We have been exceptionally busy online. This is wonderful in some ways and goes a little way towards covering the retail overheads, but it is very difficult to deliver the best service when we lose nearly 600 members of our experienced retail teams and all customer contact is directed at a few people in our Customers Service centre. We are doing our best, but our customers need their orders quickly and efficiently and in the past few weeks every area of online selling has been under massive pressure, from the technology side, to the warehouse teams, personalisation teams and of course the couriers. Closing the stores in the run up to Christmas, when we can trade so safely, has put huge pressure on everyone and caused a certain level of panic buying.
And how are your team feeling?
Our teams have been incredible. They have offered to work extra hours, worked tirelessly and uncomplaining sometimes from home as we have periodically all had to self-isolate. Some of our customers are amazing and so understanding about what we are trying to achieve, others have so little empathy and are astonishingly rude and aggressive telling us that blaming COVID is just an excuse. We will continue to do our best, but I’m just so proud of the Distribution and Customers Service teams who have had an exceptionally difficult year. We are all totally exhausted. Personally, I have been working 12 to 18 hour days for months now since I find it impossible to relax if I know a customer is needing our help.
What are your hopes for the next 12 months?
Oh my! Let’s get this vaccine out and get back to normal! I may be in a minority, but I have a lot of hope for the high street to bounce back in some areas. In the weeks before lockdowns and after re-openings we have had such a great response from our customers in our county town stores and communities. We have been helping lots of our retail customers online, but they keep telling us how much they miss our store teams. With more people working from home and not commuting into the city centres, our local stores are going to continue to go well.
Furthermore, we also really need a consolidated approach from Central and Devolved Governments. Dealing with five sets of rules (including the Channel Islands) has been an administrative nightmare!
If the brands and retailers reading this want to get involved with your campaign, what do they have to do?
It would be fantastic if others could join in the campaign. We feel that all specialist pregnancy and baby shops should be allowed to trade through any lockdowns and be classed as “essential retail”. If pet shops, off licenses and chocolate shops can trade, then surely we should be allowed to too? Please sign and share the petition; together we can make a difference. I will be delivering the petitions to Nicola Sturgeon the First Minister of Scotland, Mark Drakeford the Welsh First Minister, Micheal Martin the Irish Taoiseach, Arlene Foster the First Minister for Northern Ireland and of course Boris Johnson.
Sign the petition here
If you want to add your voice to this campaign, you can sign up here.