JoJo Maman Bebe founder challenges forced shutdown of stores
Jojo Maman Bebe founder Laura Tenison has questioned the Government's criteria for "essential" retail during Lockdown 2, which gets underway today across England, asking why "pregnancy, new baby and toddler essentials" are not permitted to be sold.
The retailer has been obliged to close its stores for at least a month from today and has observed the two-week shutdown underway in Wales.
However Tenison has said her 94 stores, staffed by trained employees, were the "go to" on the high street for these products and while some of the products could be bought online, they were often needed urgently and that staff were also on hand to offer expert advice.
In an open letter she said: "We tend to be the only local high street specialist open for a premature birth or emergency healthcare items for a little one. We are also expecting the courier services to go into meltdown in the next couple of weeks, just as they did last time, meaning the next day delivery will be unreliable.
"We regularly have distraught new partners rushing in buy the essentials while the new mother has been taken to hospital for a premature birth, or is at home with a new baby which needs a specific safety or development item. Our teams are used to these situations and take them in their stride, offering support and advice."
Tenison also highlighted the unfairness in Wales where she "dutifully" closed her stores only for baby items to be reclassified as essential at the last moment to allow supermarkets to sell such items.
She used her letter to call upon others in the sector to put pressure on the Government to allow maternity and baby retailers to remain, however she acknowledged that some may prefer to remain closed given the poor level of trade on the high streets.
"However, I am looking at the situation with a holistic approach and whilst our stores have been badly hit by the side effects of the pandemic, I do not wish to burden the fiscal purse with more expense if it is not absolutely necessary. We wish to stay open. We wish to offer our service. We wish to be useful to society and pay our taxes – not take handouts. We have not borrowed since 2008 and went into this pandemic as a healthy, well funded business which has not been rapped by the shareholders and was in a good position to continue to expand both domestically and internationally," she continued.
Tenison said her stores were located in convenient locations for parents and that the retailer had been fastidious with COVID-secure measures. "We limit the number of customers in at one time to keep them totally safe. We have had no cases of COVID contracted in our stores since we re-opened in July. We have track and trace App QR codes at the entrances," she said.
The entrepreneur, who was awarded an MBE for her services to the industry, asked why it was more important that off-licenses should open rather than stores selling maternity and baby essentials. During the last lockdown Sports Direct made the same argument when it was attempting to keep its stores, which sell exercise equipment and apparel, open. However it was unsuccessful in doing so.
Tenison said she remained committed to physical retail, saying: "We are one of the last surviving specialist chains in our market and have been doing well but if we are not allowed to trade we cannot support our customers or save our jobs. We fully intend to keep our retail portfolio as part of our omni channel offering, but we need to be permitted to trade."