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Meet the businesses which make Christmas happen

PUBLISHED: 08:34 20 December 2017 | UPDATED: 08:37 20 December 2017

Emma Harrowing, left, brand manager at Jarrolds, with Hayley Philpot, buyer, and Tim Benns, menswear sales manager, with the Country Living themed Christmas decorations in the store. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Emma Harrowing, left, brand manager at Jarrolds, with Hayley Philpot, buyer, and Tim Benns, menswear sales manager, with the Country Living themed Christmas decorations in the store. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Copyright: Archant 2017

From mince pie makers to turkey producers there are many businesses which make Christmas happen.

Emma Harrowing, left, brand manager at Jarrolds, with Hayley Philpot, buyer, and Tim Benns, menswear sales manager, with the Boutique Hotel themed Christmas decorations in the store. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYEmma Harrowing, left, brand manager at Jarrolds, with Hayley Philpot, buyer, and Tim Benns, menswear sales manager, with the Boutique Hotel themed Christmas decorations in the store. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

For many firms the festive period is make or break, the difference between feast and famine – with many making 20% of their yearly sales during late November and December.

As well as those aiming to fulfil the needs of shoppers desperate to find that heartfelt gift for a friend or relative there are also many who cater to the traditional food and decorations which are in demand during the festivities.

Prof Joshua Bamfield, director of the Norwich-based Centre for Retail Research (CRR), said he expected a 1.5% or £15m rise in Christmas spending in Norfolk and a 1.6% or £14m boost in Suffolk.

He said: “Shoppers are definitely coming out for Christmas.

Postmaster Neal Gurney who runs five Norfolk Post Office branches. Picture: Post OfficePostmaster Neal Gurney who runs five Norfolk Post Office branches. Picture: Post Office

“The car parks in Norwich have been full very early on, people are there shopping and there have been some long queues.

“I think the signs are encouraging. If you are a jeweller Christmas can be 25% of your sales, for most other retailers it is between 15% and 20%.

“The big problem in the 2010s has been that things are sold at discount prices, which is great for the customer but means shops are not really making the profits they need to get through the rest of the year.”

Norwich department store Jarrold sees sales triple over the festive season.

Notcutts' Ian Last selects a Christmas tree for a customer. Picture: PagepixNotcutts' Ian Last selects a Christmas tree for a customer. Picture: Pagepix

Brand manager Emma Harrowing said the whole team, made up of 350 permanent staff along with 69 festive temps, came together to make Christmas happen. She said: “Come Christmas it is all hands on deck.”

This year has been a tough one for many “bricks and mortar” retailers with several, including the big four supermarkets – Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Asda – as well as Wilko and Toys R Us making redundancies or closing stores.

A combination of rising living costs, discounters and online competition have ramped up the pressure on the sector.

According to the CRR, 42 companies failed in 2017, with 1,364 stores and 15,800 staff impacted to date across the UK.

2 Sisters Food Group in Flixton.
Mark Caston on the factory floor.2 Sisters Food Group in Flixton. Mark Caston on the factory floor.

Among these were menswear retailer Greenwoods, Thetford-based furniture seller MultiYork and fashion chain Jaeger.

The department store

Retailers are among the busiest firms over the festive period with thousands of customers trying to get their present lists ticked off.

At department store Jarrold, Christmas kicks off in January with their buyers preparing orders for the coming year.

Hayley Philpot has been a buyer at the Norwich store for 10 years.

She said: “We start preparing for Christmas in January by attending trade shows and finding out what the trends are for the forthcoming year. Then we select products that we think our customers will love and create a unique Christmas theme or themes for Jarrold.”

She added: “The festive period is still a busy time for us buyers as we are on the shop floor seeing what sells and making sure that we can fulfil what our customers are asking for. This also helps when buying next Christmas come January.”

A postmaster’s Christmas

With Christmas cards to deliver and parcels to send, the Post Office is unsurprisingly busy over the festive season.

Postmaster Neal Gurney, who runs the Thunder Lane, Acle, Harleston, Drayton and Framingham Earl Post Offices, said that while Christmas cards still made up a large proportion of festive business there were now a lot more parcels being returned to online retailers than in the past.

He said: “As you can imagine it is a rather busy time for us.

“A lot of people still send Christmas cards, especially overseas, but we now also get a lot of packages and parcels being returned to shops.

“About 30% of our total mail volume is sent in the first two weeks of December.”

Although Mr Gurney, 33, does not take on extra staff for Christmas, employees do not book holiday during the festive season.

Royal Mail also helps out by adding two to three extra mail collections per day.

Christmas trees and gifts

From wreaths to Christmas trees and gifts to afternoon teas, the festive season is a big one for Woodbridge-based garden centre group Notcutts.

By the end of the season its Norwich store will have sold 2,000 Christmas trees and 1,000 artificial ones.

Centre manager Richard Greenacre said the footfall rises from an average of 6,000 per week to 10,000 per week from early November.

Among the popular trends this Christmas have been gifts for pets, including outfits, stockings and woolly jumpers for dogs, and cakes and sweets.

As well as serving Christmas food in the café, Notcutts Norwich staff get into the festive spirit by wearing novelty jumpers and hats. There is also a Santa grotto for children as the centre aims to be a destination for customers as well as a shop. Mr Greenacre added Notcutts was stocking more individual gifts this year rather than mass-produced items.

Festive food

Food makes up a big part of Christmas for most people and that means a busy time for the companies which help it get from the field to the table.

While turkey might be traditional there is a large demand for poultry of all kinds and 2 Sisters Food Group’s factory at Flixton, in Suffolk, processes 1.1 million birds a week for the festive season. The site, near Bungay, specialises in the production of Marks and Spencer’s Oakham Chicken brand.

Canapes and quiche maker Finedale Foods features on many menus over Christmas.

Commercial manager Helen Lynn said: “We have been very focused on ensuring we meet all orders for Christmas. We made most of our frozen stock for Christmas in the autumn to enable us to focus December production on our range of chilled quiches. We will sell at least twice as many chilled mini quiches in December than any other month, and are currently making them four days a week.”

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