We caught up with Caroline Sullivan, owner of Tales for Tadpoles on Drury Street, to find out how the lockdowns have affected this small bookshop and how she has responded to the changes.
Online shopping has obviously increased during the pandemic, but more people are choosing Irish businesses over global chains. Why do you think this is?
Well at the start it was about supporting your own local businesses, which was lovely. But it’s now as much about people really seeing the bigger picture and realising that money has to stay in the country to help us thrive in the future. It’s also about educating ourselves on the effects of our own individual spending generally, and really thinking about where our money goes. If one good thing has come out of this crisis it’s that people are thinking about this in a way they never did before.
We also want an interesting place to live in in the future. If all your favourite independent shops close down what kind of city and country will we live in? A town or city full of only global chains is not one that I would like to live in. It’s not even one I’d like to visit.
Definitely agree there. What ran through your head when the first lockdown came around?
It was awful! I closed the shop on the 15th March and furloughed all my staff. Everything was so uncertain and the level of danger wasn’t clear, so I couldn’t ask any of my team to keep working and coming in to the shop.
Then lockdown was announced on the 17th and I had a baby on the 18th! I kept the online business going on my own with a newborn, which was difficult. But, like everyone else, I just went into survival mode and took things one day at a time.
What was the response like from your regulars?
We’ve always had such loyal, enthusiastic customers and to be honest that’s what kept me going. We got so many nice messages of support and orders just kept coming through. If I didn’t feel people really wanted what we were offering, I would have shut down the website for the few months.
How did you go about starting to adjust? What was that process like?
Honestly, I didn’t have time to think. We were lucky enough to already have a functioning online shop, but I missed my team so much. Only when we reopened and I hired back the team could I actually breathe and focus on adapting.
We introduced free shipping on orders over €50, and introduced a click and collect service. Both of those updates have been a huge success since, and have really helped sales – and therefore survival! When the second lockdown was announced we all felt much more prepared for it.
Did lockdown teach you anything new about your shop and your customers?
We’ve always gift wrapped every order, and we offer to send notes with gifts bought through the website. Unsurprisingly, there was a big upsurge in this kind of gift buying. There were so many bittersweet messages being sent through us; we saw how much our customers were missing their loved ones and craved some sort of connection. We felt lucky to play a small part in facilitating that. Our online orders meant more than they did before, not just in terms of survival for us, but there was real meaning and intent behind every purchase.
This gave me the idea of introducing a gift box subscription service to fulfill our customers’ need to connect. We’re calling them Wonderboxes; they’ve actually just recently gone live on our website.
Sounds great! Can you tell us a bit more about the Wonderboxes?
They’re a new gift subscription service you can have sent to loved ones or yourself (don’t you deserve it!). We cater to all ages, just let us know the age you’re buying for and we’ll customise to suit. There are four subscription options that range in price from €150 – €250 for four boxes sent throughout the year.
Not many people know this but we have two amazing artists working in the shop – Lauren O’Hara and Jenni Kilgallon. I asked them to create some exclusive prints that will only be available through the Wonderboxes. The pieces they’ve created are just beautiful.
Finally, what are you looking forward to most about reopening your bricks and mortar shop?
I’m really looking forward to seeing our customers again, and just getting back to normality somewhat. And I can’t wait to work with my team, instead of working apart. Getting back to our lovely shop environment again will be nice, rather than the kind of warehouse the shop has been during lockdown!
Feature Image Photo Credit: Senija Topcic, by kind permission of Dublin City Council Culture Company
Drury Street, Dublin 2