Adapt and survive

Like hundreds of independent merchants, Tivoli Wines in Cheltenham experienced a tidal wave of orders in the early weeks of lockdown.

But where were these orders coming from? Who were these new customers, and were they different from the regulars that the team was used to meeting and greeting? Could they be persuaded the stick around once Covid-19 was in retreat?

Owner David Dodd describes how the business changed its own buying behaviour as a response to the pandemic – and assesses whether his strategy has paid off

david dodd

As I sat in the shop an hour after Boris Johnson’s lockdown announcement, boxing up stock for what I believed would be a lengthy period of inactivity, I could hear my phone beeping away in my pocket.

I ignored it, putting it down to the over-excitement of a group of friends exchanging messages on Whatsapp or my wife informing me that our 12-month-old had woken up for the fifth time in an hour.

At around midnight, as I was locking up, I glanced at my phone. What I saw surprised, excited and terrified me in equal measure. It wasn’t text messages coming in. It was the notification of online orders – more than we’d ever had in a single day.

Like many small independents, the majority of our sales, around 95%, are derived from our bricks-and-mortar channel and, even though we developed an e-commerce website back in 2018, we viewed it primarily as a window to promote our hybrid business model.

I was quite happy with our website, but it had suffered from months of neglect as we focused our investment on growing the more profitable aspects of our business, particularly the wine experience side.

As rumours of a forced closure of retail circulated, it hadn’t crossed my mind that the website would become our life support. We felt re-energised; we had a form of income flowing into the business.

But as the orders stacked up over the next 36 hours, I became less excited and more terrified at the opportunity presented to us.

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