Julia Morley, Sales Director of Robert Morley & Co Limited: Running a retail business during COVID

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Morleys have been involved in London music making for centuries. James Morley started a music lending library in Greenwich in 1796 which continued for many years under the ownership of his daughter Ann Marie. His sons made and sold musical instruments in their own shops and workshops, and his grandson Robert moved to Lewisham and started Robert Morley & Co in 1881. The business continues to this day in the ownership and direction of John Morley and his daughters.

Running a music retail business in 2020/2021 has been an experience like no other. There’s been challenges, but there’s also been opportunities. Today, we’re delighted to be bringing you some thoughts from Julia Morley, Sales Director of Robert Morley & Co.

Q: To say 2020 was a difficult year in Retail would be an understatement. What was the one challenge that stands out most?

Lockdown has been challenging for most people, generally people are not good at being on their own and more people are living alone, so it has been important to keep in touch with furloughed staff to make them feel connected and still part of the team.  The third lockdown has been the most tedious for me, we were very busy until the December shutdown and did thankfully succeed in getting everything out before Christmas. The longer winter nights and cold weather sap the spirits of even the most positive of us but with the lightening evening and the hope of seeing “live” customers from mid-April we are looking forward to a more interesting time.

Q: Of the ways you’ve changed how you run your business due to COVID, which one has been the most fundamental?

Viewing by appointment with just one family or person at a time has, we have found, been helpful in allowing us to focus on clients without them being inhabited/embarrassed that they do not play as well as others in store or getting distracted with looking at “everything”, we have usually spoken to them several times before their appointment and establishing  their requirements and needs so we can show them the ones most suitable for their home and family.

Whilst  juggling clients who all turn up at the same time has always been the norm it does mean that things are a great deal calmer and more organised allowing for time to sanitise pianos between visitors, (hopefully this will not be needed forever although clean hands on my Instruments is not a bad thing from my point of view).

Q: What do you feel is the biggest opportunity for your business this year?

Time … to do things which always got put off or we intended to do when we had less on. It has allowed me time to record some of the instruments, although not the same as playing the pianos, harpsichords and clavichords themselves, it does give an impression while people cannot visit and this is certainly an avenue we are hoping to develop in the future.

Q: Do you think that music retail will ever be the same post COVID?

As a general rule we do usually spend quite a lot of time with clients one on one, with many wanting guidance for instruments for their children but without much musical knowledge to draw from or those who want the time and space to play to allow them to choose the perfect piano or early keyboard for them.

This time has allowed us to review how we approach selling from start to finish, I have always thought websites are important, this is very true at this time with many doing much more research online (often in the wee small hours of the night based on when I receive e-mails) however I do think there is still a place physical shops where people can view and play a good selection of instruments and choose the actual instrument which is then delivered as it makes them feel more involved and invested.

For accessories and off the shelf items which are all the same, on-line or telephone orders will continue, the amazon effect which grew in lockdown is unlikely to be reversed and we have got quite used to selling online, where before it was the exception rather than the rule.  I am hoping however that the trend to more local buying continues as supporting local or UK businesses should be encouraged.

Q: What are you looking forward to when it comes to re-opening your doors in April?

Talking to actual people, hearing their life stories, hopes and dreams. Real musical instruments are like people, all different and special with their own characters and hopefully there is a home for each and every one of them, we just need to find the right fit.