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A Year Since Lockdown - Victoria Lapage-Norris

Today we're talking to Victoria Lapage-Norris, who is MD of the Secret Garden. She creates hand blended and hand poured vegan, scented soy wax candles, melts and diffusers, made from her 17th Century thatched cottage in the middle of Salisbury Plain.

Last week marked a year since lockdown began and the reality of the pandemic hit the UK. What are your memories of that day?

A little shocked but not surprised. I had been tracking the pandemic since December so for me it was only a matter of time. Even so when they closed schools and said we weren't to go out and the country fell silent it was an eerie feeling.

My husband had lost his job so I knew it was going to be an interesting time for us, but I also knew that as a family we were extremely lucky in our situation as none of us had Covid-19, and we are lucky to have a large house with a large garden in the middle of Salisbury Plain. This meant we could enjoy the outside world without coming into contact with anyone else. At least we weren't in a flat in London.

Thinking back, how did you anticipate the way forward for your business over those first few days?

It was going to be hard, all the shops that I stock had to close and so stock was either going to go to waste or be tied up. I had to cross my fingers that people would embrace online shopping and not forget about, firstly my business, but also that independent shops would also be remembered. 

What actions did you take to save/change/pivot/support your business?

I had to increase my Etsy presence, and change what products I could create that would keep us afloat. The diffuser market almost dried up overnight but the smaller and more cost effective products that could be simply posted, took off.

I have now changed my range of wax melts and changed the packaging, I have created collaborations with local artists to stop the impact of the price rises from China.

Name up to three positive outcomes of the last year for your business?

  •  Greater online presence.
  •  New ranges.
  •  Greater relationships with my stores that I send stock into.

Name up to three positive outcomes for you personally over the last year?

  • Time to spend with the kids, teaching them about running a business and how to adapt with the climate. They started up their own business making and selling lemonade and cakes then they moved on to making and selling soap. They are 11, 9 and 8. 
  • The time to be more creative and try out new ideas
  • New-found love of yoga

What do you most look forward to doing IN BUSINESS as we slowly move out of lockdown?

  • I'm looking forward to the new spring fragrance collection finally being seen and smelt by people other than me!
  • I am designing a new collection of ceramic pots for the summer collection.
  • Working with new stores and continuing to support my current stockists.

What do you most look forward to doing IN YOUR PRESONAL LIFE as we slowly move out of lockdown?

  • Really looking forward to getting to St Tropez for some summer inspiration.
  • Getting back to wine o'clocks in the garden some of my most inspirational thoughts have come from nights with the girls!
  • Having a full on family Christmas in the summer to celebrate Christmas and birthdays we have missed.

What are your predictions for business generally in late 2021 into 2022? 

  • I think there will be a boom of spending as soon as the shops reopen but then it will settle down to a normal Christmas rush and then back to quiet January.
  • Hopefully the government will either cut or keep static the business rates so that the high street can start to recover.
  • Online sales will rise by 70%

Name one person who has been a lockdown hero for you over the last year? 

My husband, he has gone from being a self-employed contractor before lockdown 1 to unemployed over lockdown 1, then he managed to spend all the spring and most of the summer in the garden, started up a veg patch, planted new hedging and gave me a rose garden.

He managed to go through several online interviews and has landed himself a permanent job, he has worked from home the entire time and has put up with me 24 hours a day and our girls' homeschooling. 

He is my sounding board, my ideas implementer and rock all at once, lockdown would have been far worse without him in it.

Name one business which has been heroic for you or your community over the last year?

Cosita Bonitas in Devizes. Naz has been just wonderful. She runs this amazing small business in Devizes selling not only her own wonderful work but also local artisans too. Although she has had to close a lot this year she has managed to keep her very loyal customer base excited with all the new products and gifts that she produces.

She has been great at keeping me informed as to what is selling and what she needs more stock of.  Understanding when my suppliers have not been able to get containers into the country which causes massive delays.

She keeps her customers updated with what's new in the store by using social media really effectively and sharing ideas and creating gift baskets that have been flying off the shelves.  I take my hat off to her as she has done all of this and home schooled her kids at the same time.

When she opens up again she will have a much larger loyal customer base with great new products.  I look forward to seeing what she has in store.

And finally:

Out of the five stores that I stock only two are reopening. This is the sad fact of Covid-19, it has not only affected those that caught it but the lives of so many businesses and people that rely on those businesses.

I am glad that more people now have the courage to shop online as this is truly the way that the retail industry is going and the shops that are left will be the shops that offer a great experience with wonderful customer service.

Hopefully this will mean that we appreciate the importance of shopping local and supporting local artisans. Amazon has its place but if the independent shops can get through this then there is hope for a better and more sustainable future.

Find out more via www.secretgarden.uk.com

Fiona Scott Media Consultancy Swindon

Scott Media

Scott Media is run by a UK-based journalist with more than 20 years' experience in the media - print, radio and television.

6 Gold View, Swindon, Wiltshire, SN5 8GZ

Fiona Scott Media Consultancy
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