A-Plan Harrogate has celebrated their one-year anniversary, having opened the new branch while the nation was deep into the pandemic, lockdowns, and furloughs.
Branch Manager Chris Bishop recalls the journey from the temporary opening in 2020, to a more permanent reopening this year, to celebrating their one-year anniversary with some Fat Rascals from Bettys Harrogate. And the community support that keeps his team committed, and Harrogate town centre thriving.
Opening and closing, and opening again
“Opening a new high street store during a pandemic probably didn’t make sense to some. Particularly as so many large household retail brands closed their high street stores for good. However, despite the challenges of opening, closing, working from home, and reopening again, we knew that this would be a service that many local people would want to see return to the high street. After all, A-Plan has been supporting high streets and local communities since it opened its first branch in Oxford almost 60 years ago. So you could say, we’re very well-rehearsed at it!”
Chris continues “And now, more than ever, I really do feel that there is a need for that personal connection and reassurance of speaking to a real person to help them find the right insurance, rather than filling out an online question set. One thing that became clear at the start of the pandemic was that clients were fed up of waiting hours to have their call answered, yet on average we’re still answering calls in under 20 seconds. “
“It was a great feeling finally getting the keys to the store last year – and we managed to time our opening in-between lockdowns, so we were able to celebrate with an appearance by Deputy Mayor Councillor Zoe Metcalf, and a representative from Saint Michaels Hospice who we continue to support. We even had a visit from ‘the Trotter’s van’ which drew a lot of attention outside our store!”
“We were open for just six weeks before closing again due to the second lockdown, but we kept building the business by working from home. Unfortunately, face-to-face meetings came to a swift halt, but were available on the phone for anyone that needed us. We do go into things a little deeper to ensure our clients get the cover they need, so we still built up a good rapport via telephone. And it was great to see so many of the people we spoke to ‘pop in’ when we reopened! It was a great feeling returning to the new store once lockdown lifted. It does feel as if the entire community has really pulled together to support each other, and that has been reflected in the footfall in the centre too.”
An active part of our community
“It has been important for us to work with independent businesses and charities in the area and we started that from our very first day! In addition to supporting Saint Michaels Hospice, we continue to support the Harrogate Theatre, and work closely with the Harrogate Outdoor Bowls Club. Our team also enjoyed wearing pink, baking cakes, and fundraising for Breast Cancer Awareness, and we ran a Free Coffee Friday offering A-Plan thermos mugs filled with coffee from our neighbouring, independent coffee shop which was very well received. There is a real drive to engage in activities, and that was very prevalent at the recent A-Plan sponsored Harrogate bonfire, which saw over 12,000 people attend, and record fundraising for the Friends of Harrogate Hospital. We also ran a competition to win free insurance!
“Harrogate is a great place to work, so we also continue to support our local business community, having recently hosted a B2B networking event in our meeting room with a view to host more events in the future.”
Supporting the high street
“It is clear from the reception we have enjoyed that A-Plan is a helpful addition to the high street, with local people not having had a more personal ‘branch’ service in the area for over four years. It has been encouraging to see footfall increase over the last few months, and to see Harrogate thriving after being mentioned for it’s incredible ‘bounce back’ in the news recently. This is an amazing testament to the local community and people in the area, everyone has pulled together, and you get a real sense of that.”
If you would like to find out more about A-Plan Harrogate or the services available, contact the team directly on 01423 647220. If you would like to contact a branch in your area, simply enter your postcode here.