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In My Opinion: “We’re Guardedly Confident About Re-Opening”

West Dorset multiple Cilla and Camilla, which has two stores in Bridport – one a gift shop and the other a clothes shop – as well as a boutique department store and cafe in Beaminster, and a cookshop in Sherborne, is among the many retailers delighted to be re-opening today. 

“We’re guardedly confident about re-opening,” Cilla and Camilla’s co-owner Richard Barker told, “and slightly frustrated at the number of retailers in the towns where we trade who are not opening straightaway, as we need everyone to commit in order to raise the attraction for customers. 

“We are starting today in Bridport and Beaminster, with 50% off all SS20 fashion. With incentives we’ve received from fashion suppliers we can only make a very small margin at these prices, but it will bring customers in and generate some quick cash. In Beaminster, we’re disappointed –  but understanding – that we cannot open the in-store cafe, but we are running a take away until such time as we can offer full service.”

Above: Richard Barker, co-owner of Cilla and Camilla, is shown on screen during a recent Zoom retailer round table.
Above: Richard Barker, co-owner of Cilla and Camilla, is shown on screen during a recent Zoom retailer round table.

Richard said he anticipates that trade will be quiet for some while into the future, “however, we’re confident about the mid-term future and can be patient until then. We’ve left some staff on the Job Retention Scheme and will continue to do so until we know more about sales volumes. Meanwhile, we’ve been pleasantly surprised by the availability of stock ordered in the past couple of weeks, as well as the speed of supply. We had expected more problems.”

He predicts that we are going to see changed consumer behaviour in the short term, “but I suspect that, once regulations are further relaxed, customers will very quickly revert to historic behaviours. I don’t see that there will be the sort of seismic, structural changes which some people have talked about, other than there will be more multiples struggling and leaving the high street because their trading models were too weak anyway. Covid-19 has just accelerated the decline of those with too much expensive space in what have become poor locations.”

Above: Cilla and Camilla Clothes in Bridport.
Above: Cilla and Camilla Clothes in Bridport.

Richard suggests that the increased use of cards for payment is here to stay. “It is to be welcomed, but not much else of significance will change,” he states. “Although we benefit from great support from loyal, local customers, our business benefits hugely from visitors to West Dorset. Therefore the sooner hotels, holiday cottages and airbnbs are up and running again the better.”

As for the run-up to the festive season, Richard confirmed: “we have forecast very cautiously through to the Christmas period, expecting only 50% of last year for the period to October. From the reaction we have had on social media since announcing re-opening, I’m feeling pretty confident about achieving and exceeding that forecast, as long as increased re-infection rates do not lead to further restrictions.”

Above: Richard is hoping to exceed his forecast for the run up to the festive season. (Visitors are shown at last year’s Autumn Fair).
Above: Richard is hoping to exceed his forecast for the run up to the festive season. (Visitors are shown at last year’s Autumn Fair).

Meanwhile, Cilla and Camilla customers can look forward to shopping in newly spruced up stores. “We’ve taken advantage of three months without customers to clean, re-decorate and refurbish in places – stuff that is tricky to do when you are trading six or seven days each week. Our stores will probably look smarter today than they have for some time! All the Covid-19 security measures are in place, risk assessments done, staff briefed about hygiene etc., although I hope 2 metres doesn’t quickly become 1 metre as it will render lots of our smart signs redundant!”


Top: Cilla and Camilla’s newly redecorated Beaminster store with the company truck outside.

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