We’ve all spent more time than ever at home. From working and studying to relaxing and socialising online, we are all a lot more familiar with our homes. This has provided a huge opportunity to businesses that sell homewares.
What’s more, many of us are much more likely to shop small to support local businesses. This means there have been a number of entrepreneurs who have been able to provide much-needed relief to customers stranded at home.
One such business is Wicklewood, a British, home furnishings company. The business seeks to bring colour to our homes through their four design statements: cushions, bedding, rugs, and decorative accents, all made with traditional artisanal techniques from around the world. We spoke to co-founder, Rosie Axford, to discuss the challenges and opportunities that the pandemic has created for the business.
Succeeding under pressure
“2020 was our best year to date,” says Rosie, because “although it was terrible on many levels, it was the year of the home.” Despite challenges for the international artisans that Wicklewood works with, including teams in Guatemala, Mexico and India, the company has continued to deliver its colourful, hand-crafted products to customers.
After the first lockdown, the company learnt several hard lessons, but now, they’re set up to continue operating with minimum face-to-face interaction. “We bulk ordered products to make sure we didn’t sell out, as we did during the first lockdown,” says Rosie. In terms of marketing, they’ve refocused on ‘how-to’ and ‘design inspiration’ content, and the teams now collaborate regularly using Microsoft Teams.
Wicklewood had planned to open a showroom in London in May, but the restrictions made that impossible. They postponed until December, but unfortunately, the shop remains closed. However, the team is still making the most of the space by using the window display to drive traffic to their online store.
Competing with the big brands
Rosie knows that “shopping locally isn’t always the easiest, most convenient or cheapest way to purchase,” so to compete with larger retailers, Wicklewood focuses on building relationships and going above and beyond for their customers. “We are constantly thinking of ways to make it appealing to come to us, rather than going to the mass market,” Rosie tells us, “be that service, product offering, experience or any of a million other essential details.”
While competing with high-street names is a challenge, there are also major upsides. Rosie notes that Wicklewood benefitted from the much-deserved additional focus on supporting local businesses. “Lockdown also shone a light on small independent businesses, giving them the platform they deserve. Consumers went out of their way to shop local and support independents to help keep them alive. In doing so, they discovered the many joys of shopping small – better quality, better service, and unique products.”
One innovation that Wicklewood developed during the lockdown is their online ‘design advice’ service. Rosie explains that they “invited potential customers to send in their questions and pictures of their homes to get our help.” The business was overwhelmed by responses. They believe that “although so much is done online now people still want and need human interaction,” and that this is an area that small businesses are uniquely capable of catering to.
Technology keeps the cash flowing
“Without technology, we would have no business,” says Rosie. The business depends on Shopify, Google, Facebook, Mailchimp and many other tech platforms to reach new customers. When it comes to managing cash flow, of course, Rosie points to Xero: “The accounting team has been very supportive, and Xero’s easy to use platform and Shopify integrations have made accounting seamless – and even enjoyable!”
In the year ahead, Rosie says that “we can definitely use small business agility to our advantage – we have the freedom to be flexible, to make decisions as we go and action them instantly.” Despite the challenges of ongoing Covid restrictions, Rosie believes that small businesses will continue to play a significant role in improving people’s lives and driving economic recovery.
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