Shop local: Hope - and customer loyalty - helping Dagenham baby shop to 'soldier on' through pandemic
- Credit: Babycare of Dagenham
Customer loyalty is keeping a well-established baby shop going during these difficult times.
Babycare of Dagenham was opened in Rowallen Parade, Green Lane - on the border of Becontree and Goodmayes - in 1983 by Morris Shiraji and his late wife Sue.
Over the decades, the business has established a stellar reputation and strong brand loyalty – it doesn’t advertise, with around 95pc of customers coming by recommendation, according to Mr Shiraji.
In January, he can usually gauge how the business will do that year.
At the beginning of this year, he was quite optimistic - even considering bringing in another employee.
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But as the pandemic set in, concerns and uncertainty took hold for customers and suppliers alike.
Since then, turnover has been “quite down” on last year and the shop was forced to make two staff members redundant.
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"We had high hopes in the beginning of the year, and now it's a situation of soldiering on and taking it one day at a time,” Mr Shiraji said.
In June, with everyone’s safety in mind, shop manager Ellie Brand started seeing customers in store by appointment only, one at a time.
She was initially very busy, with even weekday appointments booked out weeks in advance. However this system also meant limiting customer numbers substantially.
Ms Brand said appointments were generally between an hour and 90 minutes.
This means on a Saturday – their busiest day – the shop is now meeting five to seven customers, compared with the 20 to 30 people who might have come through the door previously.
“For us it’s very difficult because our products are very ‘physical’ - before someone buys a pushchair, they want to push it and see if it’s comfortable for them,” Ms Brand said.
“Luckily our customers are very good to us and we do have quite a good success rate with those who book appointments then committing to the sale, but it’s a tough industry right now.”
The second lockdown put store visits on hold again.
While the shop took “a handful” of orders via email and social media messages, and a few through its website, Ms Brand said Babycare has always been “a store first and a website second”.
She said: “We want to be there and give that personal service; it’s a very family-orientated business and we feel that’s what makes us stand out.
“That’s why you wouldn’t purchase online - because you can come to the store and have that service and that face who you can always go back to and talk to further down the line.”
With customers feeling the pinch of the pandemic and their spending power reduced as a result, the shop has brought in more budget-friendly "value ranges” from brands it didn’t sell previously.
Babycare is also competing with prices offered online, particularly when large chains hold major sales.
“You’re then matching prices, which we’re always happy to do, but at the end of the day that does cut into the profit margin as well,” Ms Brand added.
Mr Shiraji said it is very difficult as a business owner to strike a balance between health and economic issues.
“For us, the safety of everyone involved in the business – customers and staff – is of utmost importance,” he said.
"But then you say to yourself, ‘I may not be there tomorrow'.
“There’s so many mouths that this business is feeding, it’s not just one family. The knock-on effect is horrendous when you think about that.”
At times like this, the customer loyalty that comes with being a well-established and highly-regarded local business is particularly valuable.
“It’s a blessing to be in that situation where people trust you and they value and appreciate the service you are providing,” Mr Shiraji said.
He added they try to keep a close relationship with their customers, describing them as "like extended family to us."
"We're serving now third generations, not the second – the babies are having babies now," he said.
“It’s heartwarming when you see customers like this that are loyal – sometimes they’ve even moved out of the area and come back to us.”
Babycare of Dagenham is currently open by appointment only on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.
Email email@example.com to make an appointment.