In a recent national report, the closure of UK shops and restaurants during the coronavirus pandemic was described as ‘sending a wrecking ball through the UK’s hospitality trade’.
Restaurants, pubs and bars, some only in the very early stages of having opened, were forced to close for the foreseeable future as the country went into lockdown, and there is doubt over the future of hundreds of businesses as a result.
Andrew McKechnie has been running artisan chip shop Chip’d on Northgate Street since early 2019, and his business, with its unique Dutch style ‘posh’ chips and a range of special dipping sauces has become one of the most popular on the thriving independent business scene.
There were big plans for the second year of Chip’d, so when lockdown was announced, like so many other businesses, Andrew described it as initially being ‘a real blow’.
“We had big plans for the second year, including new menu items, an alcohol licence and our new food truck booked for events each weekend,” he said.
“That all changed on 23 March when we saw our in store sales drop by 90% as the streets of Chester emptied and all of our food truck events were cancelled.”
At the time, delivery made up just 12% of sales, but as Chip’d turned into a business that focused primarily on deliveries, adding new items to the menu like beers, wines, burgers and milkshakes, Andrew says that he has seen his sales increase to a massive 90% plus since lockdown started.
“The support we received from the local business community was amazing with local agencies such as CheshireLive, ChesterBid, We Love Good Times and Chester.com all pushing our delivery business, along with motivational support from the local business WhatsApp groups I am involved with,” he explained. “Sood Marketing even offered to upgrade our website free of charge to push online sales.
“We also decided to launch our own app which allowed people to order for contactless collection whilst rewarding our loyal customers with money off future purchases.
“And it has been a real family affair with my myself, my wife, son and daughter all working in the shop whilst our regular team are furloughed and kept safe at home,” added Andrew.
“Whilst it has been hard work, working 7 days a week, it has paid off with our sales over the last 6 weeks being up over 50% higher than before lockdown.”
However, despite an impressive increase in sales as people become more used to ordering deliveries through Deliverro, JustEat and Uber, a large chunk of the revenue goes to these delivery companies, which means although Andrew is busier than ever, Chip’d isn’t actually making profit.
He says he is now focusing on asking customers who want to collect to order directly through the new app where their loyalty is rewarded with app credits.
And moving from a takeaway business to a delivery business has not been without its challenges either.
“One of the main challenges has been the complexity involved in moving from a takeaway business to a delivery business,” said Andrew. ” Instead of serving 2 or 3 cones of our chips to a customer in the shop, we now have to prep 8-10 boxes for delivery feeding a family everything from burgers to milkshakes. Our beautiful shop now looks like a packaging warehouse!
“The other big challenge is missing everyone. All of our amazing team, our loyal customers and everyone who we see in town every day. I really miss the bustle of Northgate Street and can’t wait to see everyone back on the streets.”
But on the positive side, lockdown has helped Andrew feel much more connected to the local community and given the business the chance to be able to support people in Chester who have been struggling, through work with Soul Kitchen, where a number of the city’s independent businesses provide free meals each week for local people who have been struggling.
And providing a 50% discount for NHS, police, fire and delivery drivers has also enabled the business to give something back.
“Our local community has helped us through lockdown and we really hope we can build on this when we get back to “normal”,” adds Andrew.
“The lockdown has also forced us to make lots of changes very quickly to the business which means we have changed in so many ways, but hopefully all for the better and we can continue to grow and be an active member of the Chester community making people happy.
“We’ve seen lots of new customers trying our food for the first time with some really positive feedback. We now need to keep some of that new business going to local independents as the big national chains start to reopen,” he added.”
Credit: Source link