“We’re ready to go!”

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With the high street coming out of hibernation, Dawn Hopkins asks Nicky Goodman, owner of Paddock Wood Cards: what will trading in coronavirus times look like for her business?

In two weeks, the next phasing of lockdown is expected with the reopening of non-essential retailers. Nicky Goodman, owner of Paddock Wood Cards, is looking forward to seeing her customers again. The independent retailer, that specialises in greetings cards, gifts, balloons and stationery, has been trading in the Kent town of Paddock Wood for 20 years.Nicky has worked for the business for 19 years and owned it since 2009.

“We’re ready to go on June 15,” she says. “The one thing I’ve really, really missed during lockdown is the interaction with our customers, because we’ve got to know them so well – especially with us being here so long! People sometimes just pop in for a cup of tea and a chat and I’ve missed that human contact. But their safety is paramount, which is why we are taking all the COVID-secure measures we can.”

These include door signage reminding customers to keep two metres apart, a socially distanced one-way system, a hand sanitizer station and a safety screen at the till. Shopper numbers will be limited to five at any one time. Staff will be equipped with locally-made face masks (each employee has chosen their own fabric design), face shields, gloves and ‘bum bags’ containing their own individual ‘bits and pieces’ such as scissors to cut and curl the ribbons for the balloons, tissues, pens, sanitizer and so on. Plus, paper towels will replace cotton towels at the back of the store.

The shop will initially be open with slighter shorter hours to allow for “a good hour of deep cleaning every night”. The business will also continue to offer a contactless local home delivery service, “because a lot of people are nervous and don’t want to come out to the shops yet – and you need to protect everybody, don’t you?”

The store has only been operating this service since the day before VE Day (May 8). Nicky explained: “Trading Standards originally said we could only do deliveries using a courier service. So, we decided to follow government advice and ‘stay at home’.” But after getting the green light from Trading Services on May 7, “we hit the ground running!”

The website was updated to enable the business to operate a contactless home delivery service. Payment is required over the telephone prior to delivery.

Nicky says: “On VE Day morning we made over 60 deliveries of themed balloons for lamp posts and houses. It took me and my husband and over five-and-a-half hours. I think we decorated most of Paddock Wood actually! It was mental but we had fun as well.”

The business has since been busy trading online, taking contactless delivery orders of cards and balloons.

“Customers have been messaging us with lists of cards: we sit on the floor, take photos of all the cards so they get a choice, then email the images over and they pick out what they want,” Nicky says. “I’ve been doing free deliveries in the area to help people, so we’re doing all right at the moment.”

Her staff are currently furloughed “so I’m doing more hours than ever, with help from my family. At the moment I’m starting at 7am and not getting home until 5pm or 6pm because it’s just full on. But it’s nice to be busy.”

She has also been using this unexpected break to spring clean the shop. Paddock Wood Cards moved to a much larger premises last September into a former HSBC branch. On the shop floor, the partyware range has been expanded. “We had the stuff anyway but just hadn’t had a chance to get it out until now. So we’ve got new shelving for that stock and taken the opportunity to change a couple of displays.”

Looking ahead to reopening day, Nicky admits she is nervous “because in the lead-up to Mothering Sunday (March 22) the shop was heaving and no one socially-distanced, so we took the decision to close then. The government announced that non-essential shops should close on Monday (March 23) anyway, so I know we made the right decision there. And people are more aware now, so hopefully they will keep to the two-metre rule.

“But at the same time, if they’re not happy to come out, we’re happy for them to contact the shop and we will home deliver. We’ve missed them all and it will be lovely to welcome everybody back.”

The business turned 20 last month and Nicky plans to mark the occasion with a belated birthday event “when we’re allowed to! Even if it’s at the end of this year or next May – which would then be our 21st year of trading – we’re definitely going to have a good celebration with the staff.”

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