When Covid 19 hit the UK in late February, we really didn’t know how it was going to affect the Summerdown Mint brand. A cautious estimate was a 50% drop in our sales forecast. Due to our isolated, countryside location and the very nature of farming, we knew the farm team could keep working and our essential oil crops would keep growing. Our key pack and despatch team could keep operating whilst observing the strict social distancing rules set by the Government and other members of the team could effectively work from home. But our business also relies on many external relationships, such as manufacturing partners, delivery services, distribution channels, export and small independent retail, all of which were out of our control. We also had major concerns that whilst farm shops and delis up and down the country were focussing on staying open to provide the necessities, luxury peppermint chocolates and tea were going to be very far down the priority list.

Thankfully, we were wrong.

Adapting to change

We have spent the last two years focussing on improving our routes to market. We’ve established a successful ecommerce website, whilst building relationships with our distribution partners and independent retailers.

Online

Our online business saw a huge surge in orders. Naturally some of these were existing customers who would usually include Summerdown in their weekly trip to their local farm shop. But over 75% of traffic to our website was from new visitors. We quickly identified our new customers and carried out a survey via Google Forms to better understand their new buying behaviour and shopping insights. We also analysed our Feefo reviews and found that a new trend was emerging during lockdown, that of the ‘self treat’, with many people now buying Summerdown as their weekly treat, or gifting Summerdown to others to lift spirits. Customers were proactively emailing us to tell us how Summerdown had been their lockdown saviour, how they were having to hide our products from grown up children who were isolating back at their childhood home or how their treat at the end of the day was one of our chocolates.

We focused online by increasing our PPC spend and creating lockdown specific product bundles.

Relationship with retail

When it came to retail, our approach was threefold:

1) We gained insight into how stockists were fairing, with sensitive calls to shops to understand the issues that they were facing

2) We increased our direct communication to retailers via our trade email newsletters

3) We thanked our loyal stockists

a. We understood that small businesses need to support each other so developed a ‘Shop Local’ campaign to give our local stockists a shout out via our marketing channels and encouraging consumers to keep supporting local

b. We said thank you with Summerdown - sending a case of our peppermint thins to selected stockists to do as they wished; sell in their store, distribute to the community or thank their team

What we’ve learned

The importance of gut instinct. Spreadsheets and forecasts are great, but when the unthinkable happens, some decisions have to be based on gut instinct

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. If you can, explore your routes to market and have at least two options

Communication is essential, both internal and external. Since lockdown began and many of our team have been working from home, we’ve had thrice weekly team video calls which has enabled us to keep on top of any changes and challenges along the way. Externally, we’ve kept our online customers and stockists up to date with any changes. We’ve also been in regular contact with our Distributor partners and many of our stockists by picking up the phone and gauging the mood

Small business needs small business. The producer/supplier/stockist relationship is key and works both ways. We all need each other to survive. By recognising this and not letting egos get in the way, we can all move forward.

And finally, as Head of Sales Jo Colman says “One of our core values at Summerdown is to roll your sleeves up and get involved. Everyone here from the farmers and the office team to our storehouse team and sales and marketing, have proved this and got stuck in.”

We are by no means out of the woods yet, but we wanted to share this story in the hope that it may give some helpful insight to other small businesses.

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