Adapting the business quickly in a time of unprecedented change
Shipleys' client and family-run business, Uniquefruit, was quick to successfully adapt its business model when Covid-19 lock-down measures challenged its normal trading channels
11 June 2020
Over the past 30 years the Findlay family have built up a highly successful greengrocery business – Uniquefruit - spanning a market presence in Guildford Town Centre and weekly markets on university campuses across London and the South of England. They have also forged a big following on social media, particularly Instagram and facebook.
Quick to adapt
When the Government introduced measures to stem the coronavirus pandemic, markets were one of the many retail environments forced to close. This, however, didn’t deter Uniquefruit from wanting to continue serving its customers – particularly those struggling to get to shops for fresh food, due to self-isolating or because they were in one of the high risk groups asked to shield by the NHS.
Within one week of the lock-down being imposed, Uniquefruit had established an e-commerce addition to its website and began home deliveries across Guildford and the surrounding villages. This gave Uniquefruit’s customers the opportunity to order fresh fruit and vegetables throughout the lock-down. Produce was delivered within 48hours of ordering and contactless payments accepted.
Supporting the community
Keen to minimise their impact on the environment too, the team kept packaging to a minimum. This, and the quality of the produce, proved popular with Uniquefruit’s customers – many taking time out to post favourable reviews and comments on social media.
The business also ran a weekly competition where locals nominated NHS workers - the names pulled out of a hat received a free box of fruit and vegetables.
The popularity of the whole operation enabled the business to expand by recruiting delivery drivers. When the markets were permitted to reopen, the business adapted again to be Covid-19 secure in its stall’s layout, and also maintained the online delivery operation.
Agility challenges and lessons
Reflecting on such a transformative period, David Findlay said, “We lost 80% of our business through the Universities we serve closing. We see little hope of getting that back until well into 2021. We were lucky though to have the help of family and friends in setting up the website and running deliveries in the first few weeks. We even found very cheap temporary premises at Compton Village Hall whom we have helped in the past."
David adds, "It was important to us not to offer run of the mill ‘Veg or Fruit boxes’ where the supplier dictates what the customer receives. Instead, we wanted to offer a bespoke service so our customers could choose exactly what they wanted. Our main aim was to help those customers that shop with us on the market - some needed to self-isolate and many of them are elderly so were particularly vulnerable during the pandemic. This meant we also didn’t want to impose a hefty minimum charge."
Reflecting on trade during the height of the lock-down, David said "We managed to keep ourselves busy and productive during a very difficult time so we have been very lucky - these opportunities aren’t available to every type of business."
"Profit wasn’t our driving force - our main focus was to look after our existing customers who needed help, to offer a professional order and delivery service and to provide top quality fruit and vegetables. It has been a bonus that we have found and impressed new customers on the way."
Going forward, and as trading conditions start to return back to some sort of normality, David suspects the online orders may start to drop off. He is reassured though that Uniquefruit has created a new branch to the business and has the opportunity to expand its delivery radius, and change and adapt it if it so wishes.
Commenting on Uniquefruit's agility and success Shipleys’ Principal, Steve Foster, said,
“Uniquefruit are truly admirable in the way they adapted quickly to continue serving and supporting their local community and customers. Throughout the lock-down they worked quickly to provide a large and varied range of products and launch an online operation. Their commitment to quality and personal service was constant despite the lock-down challenges. The team selects, sources and delivers the produce straight to people’s doors. This diversification has enabled customers to continue to access healthy food, whilst also staying safe in the lock-down restrictions.”