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Covid-19 & Retail – 1 Year On: Interview with Stone Saver

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As we approach the one year mark since Covid-19 reached pandemic status and in-turn threw retail as we know it into disarray, we’re looking back in a bid to look forward. Over the past 12 months, retailers and brands have had to dig deep, pivot their sales strategy (probably more than once), and show levels of resilience like never before.

In our new Q&A series ‘Covid-19 & Retail: 1 Year On’, we’re talking to some of our own customers about their experiences over the past year, and how they are looking ahead in a landscape that we’re all still navigating.

First up, we spoke to Matej Orlicky, Head of Online Strategy and eCommerce at Fireplace Products and Stone Saver.

How has Covid-19 changed your business? In what ways did you have to react/adapt to restrictions over the past 12 months?

From an online perspective, one of our brands – Stone Saver was launched just a month after the first lockdown started. This site is focusing on Natural Stone and Porcelain tiles. According to Google trends, the demand for products in our niche was at all time high in May last year and we were lucky enough to benefit from this. 

From staffing perspective, we had to learn to work and collaborate whilst not being in the same premises at all times. Investing in the right technology and keeping constant communication flowing is key.

As far as revenue goes, we have introduced a lot of changes that helped both sales and profitability, but it also means it is quite difficult to understand the impact Covid-19 had on this side of the business.

Tell us about your customers. Your products are typically the kind of items that consumers would look at in a showroom before purchasing – how have you managed this when restrictions haven’t allowed for this at times?

We have become a lot more connected to our customers as unlikely as it might sound. Our products are typically looked at in the showroom, but it might not always be ours. Some of the products we’re offering are either well-known brands or well-known type of stone. Customers tend to either know exactly what product they want because they’ve seen it somewhere else, or someone has recommended them.

We advised a lot over the phone, sent a huge number of samples and real-life images taken from our yard/showroom. Whilst we service nationwide audience, we have our own display areas selling to customers and businesses locally. The sales cycle might be slightly longer, but in the end, customers know exactly what they’re getting, and the return rates are much lower.

“We have become a lot more connected to our customers as unlikely as it might sound.”

During the lockdown, home improvement and DIY became increasingly popular as people spent more time than ever at home. Has the pandemic had any notable impact on your typical sales/peak season? 

As mentioned previously, our Natural Stone business took off very well, partially because of the incredible demand. We haven’t expected the traction we received and had to learn and optimise really quickly. It also skewed our expectations for the months to come, but we were still successful. This year has already seen a steady demand even though the weather is still very much in the winter mode. 

For our Fireplace business, again, it is hard to tell due to the number of revolutionary changes we made. We are, however, up on last year and I’m sure an increase in home improvement demand played its part too.

Is there anything you plan on changing as far as your business strategy goes when the pandemic ends?

One thing we’ve learned from a business/marketing perspective during the Covid times is that not a lot can be planned. Our strategies are always a combination of short-term and long-term past trends. Unless we, as a society stay in this emergency mode for a number of years, the trends over the last year or so will be almost irrelevant once the restrictions are lifted. Similar applies for the data from the recent past as they would be gathered during a very unpredictable time.

Stay tuned to the blog for more installments of our ‘Covid-19 & Retail: 1 Year On’ series, and if you haven’t already, sign up to our newsletter to stay up to date with all of the latest Kooomo news, content and updates.

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