Stephen McNeice
Stephen McNeice

13.48 25 Apr 2020


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The CEO of Woodie's says they were "overwhelmed" with orders when they reopened their online delivery service during the coronavirus crisis.

Like many businesses around the country, Woodie's stores remain closed due to the strict restrictions in place to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Declan Ronayne, CEO of Woodies, spoke to Down to Business about what he described as a 'unique month' - saying they're hoping they will be able to reopen on May 5th.

Woodie's was 'overwhelmed' with orders after reopening online store, CEO says

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He said: "I run a business with pretty substantial turnover, 1,400 employees... and we haven't sold anything.

"What we have is this utterly unique situation, where the economy wants to function but it can't function.

"People can speculate as long as they like as to how long it will last... but we're starting to think about how will we do Christmas in this environment."

While Woodie's operates a small online business, they remain a primarily 'shop-based business'.

They did work to reopen their website in the days after the lockdown was announced, with a 'large proportion' of their range available and a pledge of a 10-day delivery time.

However, they were soon 'overwhelmed and absolutely inundated' with orders.

Mr Ronayne said: "We extended our delivery time to 14 days, and we had to fight a rearguard to try and get the product people wanted to buy.

"Two weeks ago, we took quite a number of online orders - and we reckon about 5-6% we won't be able to fulfill. From a customer service point of view, that is not really the way we want to operate.

"With the best will in the world, we had a go at online... but you can't put 35 stores' demands in a big sector like ours into a small online operation... We satisfied many thousands of customers, but online is not a substitute for doing our business."

The Woodie's CEO says it's too early to tell how the current crisis will affect their business in the long-term in terms of services such as click-and-collect.

He said: "I think the most important thing we can do is do social distancing well.

"We are going to go hell for leather to get even better at social distancing once we reopen... and I think that's here to stay for the rest of the year."

Hardware stores and essential retail

There has previously been some uncertainty about whether hardware stores fell under the category of essential retail outlets that were allowed open during the current restrictions.

Mr Ronayne said it was "very late at night" when the restrictions were announced, and they were "quite hopeful" that they would be permitted to stay open.

He said: "I've said to people we're not in the DIY business anymore, we're in the mental health business... because we had so many people coming to our stores saying 'thanks be to god you're open, you're going to keep me busy'.

"We thought we did social distancing really well... we were only letting 30-40 people into our stores at any one time.

"We looked at the definition of essential retailers, and you could argue we would be among that group and permitted to stay open because we sold fuel, sanitation products and pet food - three specific things that were mentioned.

"Then on the other side we thought about what's the right thing to do here... we felt we had a duty to do our bit for the country, and it was perfectly obvious that the spirit of those guidelines was that we and pretty much everyone else should shut our doors."

He said they "could have forced it", but there was ultimately no other decision but to temporarily close.

Mr Ronayne said they have to plan in advance of any restrictions being updated, and that efforts have been needed to manage supplies amid major disruption to supply chains.

He said: "We have to have people in our stores on a daily basis just to mind the building... our managers have been in the stores, and they've been able to take in the occasional delivery of paint. That's been progressively ramping itself up.

"We reckon we will be ready to open fully stocked for May 5th... and we're very hopeful that will happen."

Main image: File photo of Woodie's DIY superstore centre in Newbridge, Co Kildare. Picture: RollingNews.ie

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