The challenges and opportunities of lockdown…

 

Change was in the air. 

Exeter was getting quieter, footfall on Queen Street was going down, and the airwaves were full of bad news.

At the Real Food Store we knew that things were going to get rocky, but we never imagined how fast it would happen.

On Monday March 23 the government announced that the country would be going into lockdown. That was it – as quick as that.

We initially tried to stay open, to weather the storm and continue providing our community with the locally produced food that we take such pride in.

But with fewer and fewer people coming to Exeter’s city centre to do their shopping each day, we were taking a huge financial hit. In the end, we had to accept that it simply wasn’t sustainable. We would have to close our doors.

 

A new opportunity.

The lockdown has been difficult, but we took the decision early on to put our heads together and try to make good come of bad. We decided that when the Real Food Store re-opened it would be better, bolder and more connected with its community than ever before.

We sent out a Call for Ideas to all of our members, and made appeals on social media and on our website asking the public for their ideas.

The feedback was phenomenal, and we read each response carefully as we reflected on the changes we could make to improve our contribution to the community.

Then, we set to work.

What we changed…

We had been planning to have air-conditioning installed for a while, and we had many responses to our Call for Ideas saying that a cooler temperature in the store would be more comfortable. The hiatus gave us the perfect opportunity to get this sorted, and our store is now not only more comfortable but our fruit and vegetables will stay fresher for longer. This means fresher food and less waste.

Many people commented on the ‘flow’ of the shop. Our product range was on the large side, and it wasn’t always easy to find things. We have now rearranged the layout of the shop so it is easier to find what you need. We sourced some sheets of plywood and blackboard paint and Veronika, our resident artist, got to work turning them into signs above different sections of the shop. We think the shop is now much easier to navigate and an even lovelier place to be. We hope you agree!

It was also mentioned by many respondents that we should provide more snack or lunch items for people on the go. We now have a dedicated grab-and-go chiller by the entrance to the shop. If you’ve got a train to catch, or you’re on your way to meet friends, it’s now quick and easy to pop in and grab some quality local food to keep yourself going. We’ve teamed up with Emma’s Bread to supply us with fresh rolls and sandwiches, which we’ve incorporated into an affordable meal deal. Find out more in store…

Safety, safety, safety…

Of course, our biggest priority was to make sure that when we eventually re-opened we could do so in a way that kept customers and colleagues safe.

Our handyman board member Jeremy constructed a safety screen above the tills using transparent plastic and recycled skirting boards. 

We installed 2-metre markings on the floor with adhesive tape, installed a sanitiser station by the door and implemented a 3 customer rule in the shop. 

With all this done, we were ready to go…

The big re-opening!

On June 9, over two months after the grim government announcement on that sad Monday afternoon, Exeter was starting to creep cautiously out of lockdown. Shoppers were returning to the high street, and we were delighted to be re-opening our doors.

As footfall was still low in the town, we opened with reduced hours and welcomed our first customers back through the door at 10am. It was fantastic to be serving our community again, and we were delighted with the positive comments from people who had missed us during lockdown. We missed you too!

 

Back to normality

Business has been good over the last few weeks, and we’ve really enjoyed being busy. 

With the threat from the virus starting to abate, and increasing numbers of people visiting the town centre, we decided to open for longer.

The Real Food Store is now open from Monday – Saturday, 09.00 – 15.00.

 

A word of thanks

We are delighted with the changes we made during the lockdown, and we hope you will be too. 

We’ve got loads more ideas in the pipeline of how we can improve the store and get more involved with wider community initiatives. As ever, we welcome your ideas on how we can make this happen.

In the meantime, please do come and see us – to say hello, check out our fresher-than-ever vegetables and have a browse around our little shop.

Above all, we would like to extend a huge thank you for sticking with us through this difficult time. We feel privileged to be at the heart of such a wonderful community, and are looking forward to continuing to serve high quality, local and sustainable produce to our customers.

 

See you in store!