Lockdown forced a go-slow and gave businesses a chance to look at areas they could expand and grow. Throughout lockdown, online sales burgeoned. The post still operated and couriers were still in business. The delivery time may have been slower but people understood that. There has also been a new appreciation of products and services that are home-grown.
I believe that online sales are here to stay and will only become more important. You may go to a shop to look at something but order it to be delivered online. If you buy something once, you may repeat your custom online. If you want to look at what a company does, you will look at their social media. That’s the way things work.
My first client was the Armagh Cider Company who also have a range of non-alcoholic drinks. Their customers are in the hospitality industry and in retail. Obviously, the hospitality side of the business was decimated by lockdown. The ciders are well-established, and they are for sale in lots of supermarkets, but the company wanted to increase the brand awareness of their Orchard Twist sparkling apple-based juices and their range of Troughton’s Premium Mixers.
We did a lot of work on the social media offering including an Instagram Stories tutorial as well as targeting new followers and influencers in the Republic and in Northern Ireland. They were sent samples which worked very well in terms of media coverage in Easy Food magazine, Woman’s Way, the Pandemic Pantry podcast and Image magazine. There was also increased social media traction especially on Instagram and Facebook.
The web copy was updated for all of the drinks, which was overdue, and time was spent looking at other delivery options. I costed couriers against An Post and Royal Mail and Amazon. Brand awareness and online sales have increased on both sides of the border.
Another client was DessertFirst by Margaret Fleming in Waterford. They make high-end home-baked products. Their business was primarily based on food service, which obviously was nil during lockdown. She had made steps towards setting up a Click n Collect online ordering service for local customers but it wasn’t working out.
A new online shop was set up with a streamlined list of products. I introduced Margaret to a food stylist who created superb new images at her home in Limerick, having received the products in a socially-distanced manner.
I did some work on social media posts and scheduling them into a busy week with content that will engage. I also introduced new followers and influencers. I also wrote the copy for a new, updated website.
The biggest challenge was getting the online products to the customers still frozen since the business model is Bake at Home or Thaw to Serve. I arranged samples of eco-friendly wool packaging from England. Some manufacturers were refusing to deliver samples because of the lockdown and were requesting minimum orders of 500. I found one which not only sent free samples, but also allocated an account manager for future business.
Margaret delivered a box of product to me with An Post. It took just over 18 hours to get to me from the delivery office in Waterford. I waited till they had been in the box for 24 hours before opening and they were perfect.
This was a great way to see if the packaging/delivery worked since many couriers were taking up to a week to deliver at that point. They were also prohibitively expensive. Testing it this way worked well. It confirmed for the business that there was a way to deliver frozen product across the island.
I also arranged samples to be sent to a distributor in Northern Ireland after calling and explaining how they might work for convenience stores without a scratch bakery. Plans are well underway for the products to go on sale in Northern Ireland.
As a consultant, I find E-Merge to be an excellent programme. The technology exists now for connections to be made face to face via Zoom. I honestly don’t believe that we will ever go back to doing business exactly the way we did before. The month long duration means InterTradeIreland can help more companies than ever and that can only be a good thing.
Find out more about InterTradeIreland's E-Merge programme.