Our BBC Breakfast Cameo
December was both the most challenging and bizarre month we’ve had since we began our business! The month even included us being featured on BBC South and BBC Breakfast News, but not for the reasons we'd have wanted to be!
We begin our planning for the Christmas rush in Summer and by the time December comes around we have extra staff in place, ingredient stocks piled high, festive packaging at the ready and a day-by-day plan for how many brownies we'll produce and how many orders we'll despatch. Despite all the planning though, the last few weeks before Christmas are always pretty stressful because we can't actually produce any products until a day or two before dispatch. Baked goods don't have a long shelf life and customers quite rightly want fresh products for Christmas, so no matter how far in advance orders come in we can only do so much until closer to the time. Once products are produced and packed we rely heavily on the UK couriers to deliver them safely and quickly for us. We use DPD as we've found them to be the best and most reliable over the years.
Everything was going to plan this year, until DPD told us on the evening of Monday 12th December that they would only be able to take less than 10% of our usual Christmas volumes in the final week of the year. We sent out 832 parcels in the same week last year and were allowed to send just 75 this year. We had no prior warning of the restriction and already had well over that number of orders booked in at that point. We also knew that most Christmas orders were still yet to come in as order numbers always shoot up in the last 2 weeks, so were expecting to be sending out significantly more than the 832 from 2021.
We soon found out that DPD were capping volumes for lots of customers but the number of 75 we'd been given was clearly a mistake. Most customers were being asked to reduce volumes by between 10 and 20%, but we were being asked to reduce by over 90%.
Unfortunately our Account Manager, local depot and everyone at DPD refused to return our calls or e-mails over the next couple of days so we couldn't resolve the situation. We therefore made the very difficult decision to close our Amazon shop and take no further orders on our website or from corporate customers for the last week of the year. Turning away so much business in what would normally be our busiest period of the year was unbelievably tough, but at that point we didn't even know if we would be able to fulfil the orders we had as we couldn't get any response from DPD. The Royal Mail strikes were still ongoing and most other couriers had stopped taking on new customers as they too were struggling with demand, so we felt there was a huge risk of letting customers down if we kept on accepting orders.
By coincidence BBC Radio Solent had been in contact the day we received the notice from DPD about doing a feature on our Christmas Cake Brownies at Winchester Cathedral Christmas Market. During the feature they overheard the conversations about DPD and the following day BBC South contacted us and asked if we would be willing for them to film at our unit and run the story. Obviously it was a great chance to raise the profile of the issue; we hoped it might encourage DPD to get in contact and even if it didn't we knew that lots of other small businesses were suffering delivery issues of some sort due to the overstretched network, so it could only help. The story went out on Thursday evening and then, unknown to us at the time, it was run again on BBC Breakfast on Saturday morning! It was slightly surreal to have friends and family get in contact to say they'd seen us on TV whilst eating their breakfast!
Whilst we never heard anything from DPD and were still fighting frantically to get orders out in the background, the support we received from the moment the story went out was overwhelming and got us through the next week! We had:
- Calls from people all over the country offering to take cars out and deliver for us
- Small businesses offering the use of their DPD account to get our volumes out
- Courier companies and intermediaries offering their services to get deliveries out
- Orders for January from people just wanting to support and help out
- So many supportive messages in person, on the phone, over e-mail and on social media
In the end we were able to work with InXpress and DHL to get the much reduced number of orders out. We slept in the office and worked through the weekend whilst we were initially trying to find solutions and then to get the orders delivered. Instead of our automated DPD delivery system we had to create delivery labels manually and tracked 100s of DHL deliveries one-by-one. We also had delayed and lost DPD parcels from the previous week, so dealt with a huge volume of customer calls and e-mails and had to send numerous replacements out at the same time.
Those 2 weeks were definitely the most stressful we've had as a business and also very expensive! As well as all the lost sales, we paid double our normal delivery rates to get orders out and sent out more replacement boxes in those weeks than the rest of the year combined! However, we were delighted that by 23rd December we'd managed to get almost all orders to customers which was always our number 1 priority.
We're so very grateful to all our customers and others for their patience, understanding and support through it all. We're also incredibly glad that those 2 weeks are behind us and hope that they're not something we'll ever see repeated! We're really frustrated at the way DPD handled things (particularly the lack of communication), but we've already made some plans for what we'll do differently in the build up to Christmas 2023 to help avoid a repeat.
Thanks again for the amazing support and thank you to the BBC for taking an interest in our little story. We hope that if there's a next time to appear on TV it's for more positive reasons!