Published: May 20, 2020 | Updated: May 20, 2020

Polished service as Diamond help Chris pivot from ‘bricks & mortar’ retail to eCommerce

Chris Fowler, Owner, The Market Gallery, Poole.
By Andrew Diprose, editor

Chris Fowler admits the future looked very bleak seven weeks ago.

Revenue at his 8,000 sq ft arts and craft shop, The Market Gallery, dropped by 90 per cent overnight – and that was before the full lockdown started.

Even after furloughing his ten staff, he was looking at a £20,000 deficit by the end of March.

Meanwhile his 18,000 active lines of stock – from craft and candles to gift bags and greeting cards – were rapidly gathering dust.

And then Chris hit on an idea.

With families confined to their homes, why not package up craft boxes containing lots of different items and aimed at giving hours of entertainment?

He pitched the idea to the 2,000+ followers of The Market Gallery’s Facebook page and then watched in amazement.

“The response just blew up,” said Chris, who bought the long-established business in Poole’s Dolphin Centre from its previous owners in March 2019.

“I spent the next five hours just replying to emails, comments and messages. It was quite incredible.”

So far, so good but now the real headache came with the logistics.

Chris packed the orders from 8am to 5pm and then spent up to six hours delivering to addresses across Dorset.

The routine was punishing but it was left to his wife, Gemma, to deliver a few home truths.

“She said I just wouldn’t be able to sustain it and that it was affecting my psyche and she was right,” said Chris, 38.

“I was sleep deprived, frustrated, couldn’t keep track of messages and didn’t know whether I was coming or going.

“It was like juggling ten balls with one hand and something had to be done.”

And that’s when a knight in shining armour – in the shape of delivery and fulfilment company Diamond Logistics – rode into view.

Chris said: “I shut down for one day to gather my thoughts and to work out a solution.

“First step was to digitalise the platform, making the ordering process easier with a proper structure.

“Next I had to find a delivery company and that’s when I came across Diamond.

“I spoke to Abbie [Brixey, Customer Service & Fulfilment Liaison] and she said: you’ve just delivered a craft box to me and it’s brilliant.”

Within 24 hours, Diamond Logistics had taken The Market Gallery under its wing, integrating the retailer’s Shopify eCommerce platform with its own online systems and arranging deliveries to customers in Dorset and further afield.

Chris said: “It’s absolutely brilliant.

“Customers can order online, pay online and have next-day delivery.

“The level of service is just amazing.

“I’ve had examples where a product has been ordered at 9am, it’s been picked up by Diamond at lunchtime and delivered to a customer by early afternoon.

“I can honestly say I’ve not had one issue with Diamond and couldn’t be happier with the service.

“It’s made my life so much easier and means I can focus on the products and dealing with my customers.”

The Market Gallery now offers four types of craft/theme boxes covering children, birthdays/parties, summer and adults with the latter including puzzles, playing cards, dominos, knitting wool, quiz/puzzles books, paints and small canvases.

Prices are £20, £30 and £50.

Chris has also provided BCP Council with boxes containing playing cards, puzzles, quiz books and other items for both elderly and vulnerable people confined to their rooms during lockdown and also troubled youths.

The Market Gallery is also offering PPE products such as face masks, disposable hand gloves and hand sanitising wipes.

Chris said: “When I took over the business in March 2019 my plan was to have an online store within two years.

“It was going to be a huge amount of work with 18,000 product lines but this shows what can be done.

“Diamond tell me that I reacted faster than any other business they deal with to the lockdown and its knock-on effects.”

Abbie Brixey, of Diamond Logistics, pictured left, said: “We advised Chris of the potential for him to rapidly pivot his ‘bricks & mortar’ retail business into an eCommerce business, ensuring a continued income revenue during lockdown and an additional income revenue beyond.

“As a client, Chris was then able to use our additional overnight shipping options, enabling him to offer delivery nationwide to his customers.

“We are very pleased to be working with The Market Gallery and look forward to the business continuing to evolve and scale.”