Our New Future
Our New Future

Meet the European companies thriving online after closing their physical stores

Key Points
  • Governments have forced retailers to shut down physical stores to try and slow down the spread of the coronavirus. 
  • However, companies like VanMoof, Biscuiteers and Stone Tyres have all seen sales surge.
  • They turned to the internet to boost their revenues during the pandemic. 
VanMoof cofounder Taco Carlier riding one of the company's e-bikes.
VanMoof

Making money is hard at the best of times, but during the pandemic some businesses have had to think long and hard about how to generate revenue as governments forced physical stores to shut down.

Thankfully, there's a little platform called the world wide web that has been a savior for businesses worldwide. Many already had an online presence, but others have rushed to set up and expand their websites as people were left with no choice but to shop online. 

VanMoof

Trendy e-bike seller VanMoof had to shut stores in Amsterdam, Paris, Berlin, London, New York, San Francisco and Tokyo in March as the coronavirus spread. In many ways, lockdowns have worked in the Dutch company's favor, however, as people shunned public transport for other options.

"We saw a spike in demand early on in March," VanMoof Chief Executive Taco Carlier told CNBC. "Online e-bike sales were up 48% between February and the end of March compared to the same period last year and sales have continued to boom for us."

Between March and July, VanMoof said it sold roughly the same number of e-bikes as it did in the whole of 2019, generating nearly 40 million euros ($46 million) in revenue in five months. Carlier pointed out that the growth can't all be attributed to the coronavirus, saying a price drop on one model and the launch of a new one helped to boost sales.

Like other companies, VanMoof's stores have reopened with stricter safety measures and other caveats like shop re-routing, appointment slots, disinfection stations and, of course, compulsory face masks. "It's weird how normal it has come to feel," said Carlier.

Biscuiteers

London-based Biscuiteers, which sells hand-iced luxury biscuits, told CNBC that it has seen its online revenues soar by 101% compared to this time last year, while two physical outlets in Notting Hill and Clapham remain closed.

"We had to make immediate operational changes to bring our production in line with government guidelines, moving to flexible shift working and laying on bicycles and taxis for our staff to keep them off public transport," said Harriet Hastings, who founded the company with her husband in 2007.

"We were of course impacted by the closure of our icing cafes and an initial reduction of orders in our corporate division, which creates bespoke biscuits for business, although we have found that there has been growing demand for employee engagement gifting during lockdown," said Hastings.

"Our focus shifted entirely to managing online orders with a much-reduced staff and reacting to changing customer demand by pivoting our product range," she added.

Biscuiteers

DIY kits, which allow customers to ice their own biscuits, have proved popular during the pandemic.

In a bid to keep up with online demand, Biscuiteers has temporarily rented a second base for the icers to work, but social-distancing measures limit the number of staff working there at any one time.

Hastings said Facebook's Workplace platform, a version of Facebook for businesses, had played an important role during the pandemic.

"We introduced Workplace to help us keep the normal conversation and interconnectivity between remote workers and our frontline production staff going," said Hastings. "This helped to maintain our company culture and connections with each other, which in turn helped to keep everyone motivated and pointing in the same direction."

Stone Tyres

Supergenijalac | Getty Images

Stone Tyres, a tire fitting company in the north of England, was forced to close its brick and mortar depot on March 23. But sales have boomed thanks to a surge in call-out requests.

"We made sure to massively push advertising on social media and our website," John Stone, a director at Stone Tyres, told CNBC.

When the store first closed, productivity dipped to 48% of what it was compared to the same time last year, meaning the amount of tires being serviced was down 52%. 

However, within six weeks, productivity was back up to 87% of what it was compared to the same time last year.

"Now that we have re-opened, we are actually thriving and are achieving 124% of sales based on this time last year," said Stone.

"Proper management of finances is the key to running a successful business that isn't here today and gone tomorrow. Using a cloud accounting platform like Xero so you can see your 'real time' performance has been crucial for me when taking my business online. By keeping an eye on the numbers, you get a proper feel of how the business is doing day in and day out, not just when it comes to filing your accounts."