How Rachel’s pub, shop and hire company survived lockdown

Sister Sister, exterior of shop in Stratford upon Avon

In April, we heard from Rachel Hawkins, who owns two pubs, runs a hat hire company as her side-hustle, and somehow finds more hours in the day to run a ladies’ accessories shop and online store.

Read the article here:
Tide blog | How to run a business in lockdown: Rachel »

Post-lockdown, we caught up with Rachel to find out how what’s been happening at her businesses, how she’s preparing for a challenging winter, and what advice she has for other small business owners.

The Hare 🍺🍴

The Hare, Milton-under-Wychwood
The Hare, Milton-under-Wychwood

To the delight of the regulars and staff, Rachel’s Cotswold dining pub, The Hare, reopened in early August.

Here are Rachel’s tips for surviving the lockdown – with a twist in the tale about exactly who has reopened the pub…

1) Cut your expenses

Examine all your outgoings and work out what costs you can cut or reduce.

“For example, while the pub was closed, we didn’t need the big commercial bins emptying. We negotiated with the council to cut that cost. And our contract for the card payment machines was ending so we let that lapse, which saved us around £50 a month.”

2) Be kind – but be realistic

At The Hare, there was still Council Tax to pay on the pub because it has accommodation, used by the live-in staff who were on furlough. Rachel asked that they each contribute £5 a day from their furlough pay to live at the pub.

3) Consider other options and change your plans

At the beginning of 2020, Rachel and Sue (the co-owner) put the freehold of the pub up for sale. Then, as lockdown set in, they knew they were unlikely to sell the pub outright.

“Instead, as the country eased out of lockdown, we thought we’d take a punt on offering the lease for sale too, so we instructed our estate agent. To our total surprise, we had interested buyers straightaway.”

The eventual buyer was Matt Beamish (surely an auspicious surname for a pub owner) who also owns The Plough in nearby village Kingham. After negotiating with Rachel and Sue, he paid for the fit-out, has a discount for the first year, and has signed a 15-year lease.


Rachel was preparing to re-open the pub on 26 July and instead, the pub opened on 1 August under Matt’s leadership, keeping on the furloughed staff. The pub benefitting from a boost in trade from the Chancellor’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme.

Rachel and Sue also own the freehold of a pub in Stratford-upon-Avon, The Corner House. The leaseholder hasn’t paid rent since January or re-opened the pub after lockdown. What’s the plan there? All I can say is that Rachel and Sue are on the case… 🤐

Cotswold Hat Club 👒✨

For her hat hire business, Cotswold Hat Club, Rachel cheerfully admits that her takings are zip, zilch, zero since March. With no events during lockdown, race meeting now underway but without spectators, and weddings now allowed but scaled down, no-one is hiring a fancy hat.

Instead, Rachel has been working with stylists to maintain the profile of her company. Here are her tips on how to raise awareness of your brand without paying for advertising:


1) Ask for endorsements by influencers

Sarah Kate Byrne wears headpiece from
Cotswold Hat Hire for a Goodwood Races
best-dressed competition
.
image: @sarahkatebyrne

Because spectators aren’t yet allowed at race meetings, venues are keeping race-goers engaged by running virtual ‘best dressed’ competitions.

“These usually take place in-person at race meetings. Prizes have been things like gifts from sponsors and tickets to the racing in 2021.

“A few serious competitors send me photos of their outfit choices and I send them a headpiece or two to go with them, in exchange for a tag in their social media posts. I’m so proud when they win wearing one of my hats!”

2 ) Supply celebrities who align with your brand

Francesca Cumani wears a Borgo de Nor dress
with a headpiece from Cotswold Hat Club
to present ITV Racing.
Image: @francesca_cumani

Rachel supplies hats to Francesca Cumani, presenter of ITV Racing.

“There aren’t any race-goers to jazz up the coverage, so the show’s stylist makes sure Francesca looks as well turned-out as a best-dressed competition entrant.

“The stylist sends me photos of the dresses she’s picked out for Francesca, often they’re vintage, and I match them with a headpiece and send it over.

“Francesca and her stylist post photos of her on social media and credit the Cotswold Hat Club. Nearly 1.8 million people watched this year’s Royal Ascot on ITV so it’s incredible exposure for the Hat Club, with very little cost.”

3) Collaborate with similar businesses

Melissa wearing a dress by 8th Sign
and headpiece by Cotswold Hat Club.
Image: @8thsign

Rachel has been collaborating with fellow small business owner, Melissa, whose clothing company The 8th Sign designs and sells dresses for special occasions.

“To showcase their collection, Melissa blogs and posts on social media with ideas for complete outfits. The 8thSign and the Cotswold Hat Club are ideal partners because our customers are the same people: ladies attending formal events.

“Melissa sends me photos of the clothing and accessories, and I send her a headpiece in exchange for a tag in the posts. I love it when the results are a perfect match, like this yellow outfit [pictured].”


Although Rachel pays to post the hats, and isn’t earning from these collaborations, they reinforce the Cotswold Hat Club as the leading ladies’ hat hire service for racing and events.

It’s clear there’s an audience who enjoy dressing up, even vicariously in their lockdown pyjamas, and Rachel hopes customers will remember her company in future, when events and celebrations resume.

Sister Sister 💍🎀

Business has been brisk at Sister Sister, the accessories store Rachel runs with her sister Francie in Stratford-upon-Avon (at Bell Court in the town centre). Many people have had to cancel foreign holidays this year so Stratford is proving to be a popular destination with British staycationers and day-trippers.

Masks for sale at Sister Sister
Fabric face-masks for sale at Sister Sister

“The top-selling item at the moment is, of course, the face-mask! We’re marketing them as the ‘must-have accessory’ – and they truly are!”

The store sells patterned masks which customers love to coordinate or clash with their outfit.

The sisters used the Government’s Small Business Grant to build up the stores stock levels ready for Christmas and are pleased to be operating in profit. They’ve confirmed they’ll continue renting their current unit until the end of December 2020.

Rachel initiated Sister Sister as a development project for her sister Francie who has now taken full responsibility for running the company.

“Francie now has a fuller understanding of the finances so we don’t need to rely heavily on our accountant. I set Francie targets for takings at the store, based on outgoings, and she develops promotions and displays to hit the targets.”

While many businesses, even well-established companies, are failing in 2020, it appears that Sister Sister is emerging strongly from lockdown. The secrets to the store’s success are:

1) Launching their online shop

Francie and Rachel fast-forwarded their website launch to go live during lockdown.

“Even though we couldn’t open the shop, we were able to earn through the webstore – and we loved working together to pack and send orders.”

2) Identifying trends quickly

Francie and Rachel realised women would want stylish, comfortable and eco-friendly masks (rather than the plain disposable versions) so they ordered in bulk from a supplier.

“We were stocked with masks before wearing one in shops became mandatory and we must be the go-to place in Stratford for pretty fabric masks. They keep selling as fast as we can restock.”

3) Engaging customers through social media

Francie regularly posts on Instagram, driving traffic to the website.

“We have some fab followers who shop with us and then show off their purchases on Instagram, tagging us. We love to share these in our Instagram Stories and customers tell us they love to see how other ladies are wearing our accessories.”


Accessories for sale at the Sister Sister shop in Stratford upon Avon
The Sister Sister shop in Stratford-upon-Avon
Image: @sistersister_collective

Like many retail businesses, the team at Sister Sister are hoping for a busy Christmas and expect to make 60% of their year’s taking around this time. However, no-one can predict what coronavirus measures will be in place for winter this year so Christmas parties might be off the agenda.

If people aren’t buying new accessories for events, Rachel and Francie hope people visit their store or website to buy gifts.

If you could use a little retail therapy, take a look at Sister Sister’s online shop at: sistersistercollective.net and follow the sisters on Instagram: @sistersister_collective

Have your say

How has your business adapted to work during the continuing coronavirus crisis? We’re keen to hear from you – get in touch with us on LinkedInFacebook or Twitter.

Photos by Suzanne Worthington © Tide, unless otherwise stated.

Suzanne Worthington

Senior Writer

Tide Team

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