FEW IRISH BUSINESSES have been unaffected by the coronavirus outbreak and the public health measures necessitated by it.
For some, the blow won’t be felt for a few months. For others, the consequences were immediate and the need for adaptation instantaneous. Dublin-based Evans Educational Ltd — which sells arts, crafts and educational supplies — is certainly in the latter camp.
While the nation was watching Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announce the closure of all schools and creches a fortnight ago, Breda Gibson, general manager, was watching her customer base evaporate into thin air.
Gibson explained to Fora that primary schools, teachers and creches make up 98% of the firm’s clientele.
“We were all standing here in the warehouse when that was announced on the Thursday night,” she said.
Normally at this time of year, the company would be busy with orders for Easter-themed craft materials, lino-printing sets for junior cert art exams and end-of-year awards for primary school students.
“We thought that maybe (the closures) would happen but we’d be given notice or maybe they’d just extend the Easter holiday.” But right there and then, ”our business just stopped,” Gibson explained.
Gibson has worked for the family-run business — owned by mother and son duo Gerald and Noreen O’Rourke — for 40 years. It employs 12 people at its warehouse in Finglas and for Gibson and the owner-directors, letting people go during the crisis was never an option “because we need our staff,” she said.
So instead of shutting up shop, Gibson came up with an idea to “keep the business up running and to get some kind of cash flow going.”
Overnight, Evans Educational changed tack, identifying a new customer base – beleaguered parents looking after bored children, who are stuck at home.
“We knew there’s going to be a limited amount of money as well because a lot of parents who are now at home and now are also unemployed.”
Bearing this in mind, Gibson and O’Rourke hatched a plan to pivot to home delivery with an emphasis on value.
With the help of their warehouse operatives, they began putting together arts, crafts and educational materials packs, pricing them at €20 and marketing them directly to parents on the company’s website and Facebook page.
“We find that the one thing that people hate paying for is delivery. So then we decided, because we have our own van driver here, we’d offer free delivery on any order of €20 or over,” Gibson told Fora.
Although the firm looked into setting up a card payment system on its website, it was decided to keep things as simple as possible.
“Before (the delivery driver) goes out, we ring the customer and just say, look, we have your order ready.’ And they just give us a card over the phone,” she said. This also helps ensure that there is no contact between the driver and the customer.
Gibson said that the firm has been very fortunate to keep the warehouse up and running, while also abiding by social distancing rules. Some staff have also taken holiday leave to help with this.
“We’re very lucky because the store is very big so there’s plenty of room for everyone to move around in it. We were a bit worried about the kitchen because everyone likes to meet together, but now we’re doing (breaks) it in twos,” she said.
So far, Gibson said that the move has been a hit with new customers. “The uptake has been unbelievable — we’re run off our feet. Our Facebook page has been getting more hits and we’re hitting more people and asking them to tag us.”
“If we’re going to stay open, (customers) will come back,” she said. “We’re not closing down. We’re not letting anyone go away. Because we need our staff. And it’s only because of the staff that we’re able to do what we’re doing today.”