Last week Talking Tables' Clare took a trip to sunny Scotland...
'When I visit my parents and family home in Fife, Scotland, I make a visit to the retailer Loch Leven’s Larder. The setting by farmland on the edge of the loch certainly relaxes one, but in addition one feels the positive energy of Emma, who works there, radiating out. It has a fresh, airy and bright vibe as soon as one arrives and I am in a “this is a treat” mindset immediately.
Emma kindly agreed to have a business chat with me. I am calling it a “Talking Topic”.
I led with, how have you kept your independent store and farm shop, Loch Leven’s Larder, vibrant and thriving during the pandemic year?
Emma said that she and her team took a mental decision to keep going, to stay positive and to keep the store fresh with new product whilst allowing the floor to flow safely but conveniently for the shoppers. The team adopted a “we can do this” attitude and they put appropriate processes in place and proactively decided as a team not to be overwhelmed by the impact of the virus.
She acknowledges she is lucky to have the space in the rural setting which in turn helps customers feel safe. She notes this would be tougher for a city centre store.
Emma reported that there has been an initial uptick in sales after the lockdown, with custom from both local and staycations visitors.
She has witnessed strong sales on celebratory products as people catch-up on big occasions that were missed during lockdown. She herself sent her daughter a big hamper box for a missed 22nd birthday.
Whilst rather overshadowed by the arrival of Covid-19, we tend to forget that Brexit used be the of the overriding business chatter. I asked what impact Brexit had made in reality.
Emma said that Brexit was impacting her buying as she was currently narrowing down to fewer, larger European suppliers, to those that could offer seamless delivery to the UK. Whilst this was fine, she was worried that she will miss out on the quirkiness of the smaller vendors she had rummaged to find at European shows and that this in turn may mean her store is less individual relative to other retailers and less exciting for shoppers. Looking ahead, when she does import new stock from Europe, the tariff procedure will be manageable, but she sees that going forward if the currency exchange rate is volatile, she may end up taking a risk on exchange rate movements after she has, say, bought in January for Christmas stock.
I asked how important sustainability is to Emma and Loch Leven’s Larder
Emma predicts that sustainability will be an expectation placed on all retailers and that she, like other businesses, will have to move to become carbon neutral. She believes that we all, as individuals, have a responsibility to be more sustainable; that we shall all have to look at what we do every day to make a difference. Whilst the issue goes much wider than product, as suppliers Talking Tables will be expected to do our bit to ensure our products are sustainable. In addition, Emma is keen to see more British manufactured product come through.
At Loch Leven’s Larder they are tree planting, having some bee hives delivered and are building a sensory garden. On the farm side of the business, they are planting rich clover mixes which the new bees and other insects and birds will enjoy. Whilst offering vegan options, ironically, has led to more food wastage, as her customer base, as yet, is not lapping up vegan choices on the café menu.
What is the future of trade shows?
Leading on from above, the travel to multiple trade shows is not that sustainable with multiple journeys. It is a massive expense to suppliers and of course for retailers as they have to leave the shop with appropriate staff coverand to pay for travel and accommodation. However, on the plus side, Emma does love to touch, feel and look at new product; she enjoys the business chat that sits alongside trade show, talking to suppliers, other retailers and industry personnel, so she expects trade shows in some form will play an ongoing role. However “the days of the very big NEC show may be over”. Some fear may remain about travel and large groups, even if Emma’s own personal motto is “jab and go”.
To find new product, Emma expects to invest more in desk bound research via google, Instagram and more local visits to supplier showrooms. Emma also highly values input and insights from local sales agents, such as our Lucy Sharp who is close by and has regional insights.
We finished our conversation, both feeling upbeat and as always, I was energised by Emma’s contagious positivity. She and I remain upbeat for Christmas 2021. We shall all be ready for a good bash and gathering with friends and family by December 21.'