Last of the centurions beats COVID with Digital

The last centurion family business in Colwyn Bay couldn’t be more personable and traditional, but if its long history shows anything, living their brand at the same time as adapting has been vital.

Arundales opened in 1887. It has survived two world wars, pedestrianisation, a town by-pass, two large supermarkets either end of the town, declining footfall and high business rates forcing the closure of its eminent two storey self-service greengrocers – and now a global pandemic.

So, it hasn’t been a walk in the park for Philip Arundale, great-grandson and heir of the family business, and his wife Wende. But they rolled with the punches, adapted and made things happen.

“It was heart-breaking to close our greengrocer’s shop after 120 years”, says Wende. “But we leant on our reputation for quality and service and increased our focus on the wholesale side of the business. Now we supply local schools, colleges, bars, restaurants, cafes, hotels, old people’s homes, and fresh fruit and veg for the animals at the Welsh Mountain Zoo.”

A fruit and veg hamper.

 

The new business model worked well. Then COVID hit and wholesale customers cancelled orders left right and centre as schools, colleges, and tourism and hospitality shutdown.

“We received 60 enquiries a day”

Arundales could have gone under but almost immediately the community unwittingly came to the rescue. “We received 60 enquiries a day from shielding or scared residential customers asking if we could do home deliveries.

“It was chaos. We had no set delivery routes for the first week, the phone was ringing off the hook, our liveried vans were catching attention as they were out and about creating more enquiries, and I was working till 10pm just to write out or print orders”, says Wende Arundale.

At the peak three vans were delivering fruit and veg to between 70 and 90 people a day, and four family members had to chip in doing 16-hour shifts for the first few weeks.

Inundated with orders, Wende used the answer machine to direct people to the website’s fresh produce list. At this point they waived the usual £20 minimum free delivery charge to help out single people and small families. But there was no facility to order or pay online as the website was not an e-commerce site or set up to service private households.

As people got braver and started going back to the supermarkets by the end of June the demand dropped to a more manageable 100 deliveries a week. Customers were also able to collect from a Covid-safe pick-up point direct from their premises.

A dairy hamper.

 

“I estimated we’d need to maintain 30% of the original residential deliveries to weather the storm and based on recent experience we had to find a better way of doing it.”

Over the next three months she attended free online courses provided by Superfast Business Wales and worked with one of their business advisers, Catrin, to get a grip on how digital marketing, social media and a strong website could bridge the gaps in the Arundales business.

Wende says she had to adapt and move quickly, and Superfast Business Wales helped her gain confidence. “Catrin wrote me a report detailing what I needed to do and gave me a push to do it. She was invaluable and put me in touch with other local businesswomen that I’m still in touch with, and shared lots of tips about making social media work for us.”

By Christmas Wende had updated the website to make it more mobile user friendly and allow people to order and pay for fruit and veg boxes online at point of ordering. But Wende points out that the personal touch is part of the brand so bespoke orders are phoned in or emailed through and paid for on delivery or by bacs.

“I regularly update the website with content, and now have a blog and post on social media. It’s quite amazing how it has all come together, with orders from the website via Facebook and Google My Business, as well as the phone, which our older customers prefer to use as many don’t have online banking and struggle with online ordering.”

If a local 124-year-old family business can adapt to change and use digital to do some of the heavy lifting, then anyone can.

Wende does say she thought it would be a lot of extra work but admits it is easy to manage and that taking orders and processing them is more streamlined. Online orders mean we can weigh, pack and print an invoice ready.

She concludes, “We weren’t expecting lockdown. We weren’t set up for it. But the business came looking for us and repeat orders have sustained us during the third lockdown. If a local 124-year-old family business can adapt to change and use digital to do some of the heavy lifting, then anyone can. Superfast Business Wales is free, and I thoroughly recommend it.”

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