Retail businesses struggling to stay afloat in the post-COVID world could do a lot worse than take inspiration from Hotel Chocolat. During the worst period in history for the UK high street, the British chain has bucked the trend in spectacular fashion with its revenue increasing by 3% in the year up to the 28th of June. This is a decent rise in profits at the best of times, but under present circumstances, it is nothing short of miraculous. Things are going so well that the company recently announced the creation of 200 new jobs to help cope with a “surge in online demand.” At a time when companies are laying off staff left, right and centre, this is heartening news indeed.
So how did they do it? The key seems to be the company’s willingness to adapt to the “new normal”, combined with the support and affection of its customers. While many retailers tried their best to cling to their old models even as mandatory shop closures became inevitable, Hotel Chocolat embraced these unusual times and turned the situation to its advantage. By reaching out to its loyal customer base, the company was able to effectively migrate a huge chunk of its sales online. This meant that, despite its branches being closed, it didn’t miss out on the crucial Easter and Mother’s Day business that is a vital part of the confectionery industry calendar.
CEO and co-founder Angus Thirwell is hugely popular with customers, and this was surely an important factor in the company’s ability to retain business during the lockdown. He expressed his gratitude to the customers who stuck with him:
“Our physical retail usually accounts for over 70% of sales in the second half, but all locations were closed for the entire Easter period this year and beyond. It is a testament to our lovely customers’ loyalty that they switched in droves to online.”
Thirwell also noted that the Coronavirus outbreak allowed the company to accelerate the implementation of certain ideas. With much of the nation stuck at home, treats and indulgences took on greater importance. This, combined with the desire to send gifts to isolated loved ones, led to a huge increase in the company’s subscription services. A similar jump has been seen elsewhere in the industry with food and wine subscription services also proving popular.
The lesson here is clear; the best way to survive change is to embrace it as an opportunity.