Little over 12 months ago the world came to a standstill when coronavirus swept the globe.
The UK saw a mass panic buying spree with hand sanitiser and toilet roll shortages, whilst supermarkets struggled to meet the demand of home deliveries.
But one local fresh produce and flower supplier was hailed a ‘hero’ and became a lifeline to its customers who were unable to get fresh products and home deliveries through the lockdown.
Demand for orders via the businesses website has gone ‘through the roof’, rising from just five orders a week, to a staggering 700!
Hoole Food Market is run by husband and wife team Jason and Leann Shaw who bought the business from the previous owners two years ago.
“Leann had worked here from a teen as Saturday staff,” said Jason.
“We operate out of our shop in Hoole where we sell fresh fruit and veg, plants and flowers by the stem.
“We provide the freshest produce by travelling to Liverpool market in the early hours, six days a week,” said Leann.
“This means that not only can we procure the best quality produce and have first dibs on the most beautiful locally grown goods, but also can choose some really unusual and funky things that aren’t available elsewhere.
“At the moment we have Dragon Fruit, Sugar Canes, Papaya, Guava, Tree Tomatoes, purple potatoes, and a few other treats.”
The shop, based on Faulkner Street is filled with a large range of dried pulses, pastas, grains, herbs, spices, oils, flour and honey.
Customers can help themselves from wall mounted dispensers which are great fun to use.
“Our shop is accessible to everyone, we have elderly people who tell us it reminds them of shopping when they were children,” said Jason.
“We have children who come in daily with their parents and just love trying all of the local, and exotic, produce.”
When the couple first purchased the business they were keep to blend the old with the new, giving the building a thorough makeover, introducing fresh ideas and even introducing their own self-built website.
“We own an old style, high street, food retail business and have teamed it with the present with a web ordering delivery service that we thought people would want, this has been accelerated by the pandemic,” said Jason.
“On the announcement of the first lockdown our website crashed due to the high demand.
“The only way for us to manage the first few weeks was to only make the website available for 30 minutes each day, when we were receiving upwards of 200 online orders.”
Shop takings also rocketed, and at that point, as a team of only four, Jason and Leann knew they had to act quickly.
Struggling for space to complete the orders their local community centre offered space, new team members joined and their van fleet doubled to four.
“We depended a lot on the amazing kindness of members of the community who volunteered to deliver boxes and put orders together,” said Leann.
“This enabled Jason to very quickly put the technology in place to compile orders rather than manually, as we had been doing.
“Following a few trial and error apps, Jason sourced an amazing route optimisation app and within a few weeks we were able open our website 24/7 and meet the demand.”
The website made it possible for customers to include in their order their requirements regarding Covid and how they received their delivery.
Free, next day delivery was put in place and over the following months procedures were streamlined which enabled the team to deliver within a 20 mile radius.
“We had our new warehouse built September last year which enabled us to leave the community centre and have the whole team at one location,” said Jason.
“This has reduced the need for extra help from incredible volunteers and streamlining the way the business ran daily.
“We now have a team of 10, a super-efficient working day and are able to reach all of our customers within hours of them placing their orders.”
The couple’s working day is an early one starting at 3am, with Leann traveling to Liverpool Market whilst Jason heads to the shop.
Leann procures all of the produce and flowers for the day, along with any wholesale orders received through the night and Jason compiles orders and plans delivery routes for the day ahead.
Leann returns to the shop at 6.30am with the days produce and two other team members begin their working day with stock filled and rotated ready for opening at 8am.
All wholesale orders are compiled and the first round of online orders are put together, all to be loaded onto the first van delivery run of the day at 8.45am driven by Jason.
“By 2pm, all deliveries are complete, then it’s time to respond to any emails, complete any paperwork and we try to head home by 3.30pm,” said Jason.
“Orders are placed for the shop for the next day from home, whilst I complete all figures, book keeping and end of day procedures at that time.
“Then its dinner with our children, a quick walk of the dog and to bed by 8pm ready to start a fresh the next day,” he added.
The couple have put a lot of time into planning and forecasting for the future, and are extremely proud to see these plans ‘come into fruition’.
“Although planning and forecasting for the future in such an uncertain time is unbelievably challenging!” said Jason.
“Our business is straddled across various market sectors, and in this bizarre time, this has been difficult.
“Our wholesale business has obviously taken a real hit due to the closure of catering establishments.
“Plants and flowers were a real issue to source in the first months of the pandemic so we’re still building this side of things back up.
“But other areas such as our online business have grown so quickly, it has been quite the challenge to get a handle on this.”
It’s been ‘quite the 12 months’ for Jason, Leann and the team and they have plans to continue building the business, including plans to open up a second shop.
“We would like to concentrate more on building the wholesale side of the business as well as fulfilling our dream of a locally sourced, sustainable business,” said Leann.
“We are looking into growing some produce ourselves as well as teaming up with locally based farmers and businesses.
“We already work closely with many local growers and fresh produce businesses, aim to build this over the coming 12 months.”
Something that hasn’t changed since the start of the couple’s business journey is their accountant, Ellis & Co Chartered Accountants and Business Advisers.
“We’ve been with Ellis and Co since the very beginning of our venture,” said Leann.
“We met with several accountancy firms before deciding to work with Ellis and Co.
“Following meeting John and the team we felt reassured that Ellis and Co would provide us with the guidance and sound advice that we needed in order to fulfil our business dream and grow it.
“We are truly delighted that we made this decision.
For further information about Hoole Food Market click here.
Ellis & Co Chartered Accountants and Business Advisers, Chester & Wrexham - 01244 343504, firstname.lastname@example.org