Published: 11:19, 15 October 2020
| Updated: 16:45, 19 October 2020
For one family-owned card shop chain, Christmas has come early - even amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Despite coronavirus hitting most businesses hard, Cards Direct has launched a new shop in Ashford's County Square shopping centre.
Opening yesterday - a day ahead of schedule - retail operations manager Mark Watkins is optimistic about the future.
The chain, which sells cards from 19p, has filled the former Bonmarche unit between F.Hinds and The Fragrance Shop.
Mr Watkins - who has been with the company since its first shop opened in 2013 in London - said: "We've been running ahead of schedule, we've obviously had a few days of inspiration.
"This is a wholly family-owned business, and this opening marks our 35th store.
"Having branches in Folkestone, Chatham and Canterbury, Ashford has long been a target of ours as the next logical step."
Offering cards, gifts and wrapping paper, the timing could not have been better as the Halloween and Christmas seasons start to ramp up.
When asked why people should come to their shop over more established rivals, Mr Watkins highlights the store's range - it stocks about 4,000 different designs and currently sells 3,000 different Christmas cards.
And Mr Watkins says the firm is not frightened about opening a new branch during the pandemic.
He said: "Certainly Covid is an additional consideration in terms of the logistics of opening a shop - maintaining social distancing and the safety of staff.
"It's given us a chance to do lots of work behind the scenes ahead of this week, hence why we were able to open early.
"From a retail point of view, lots of people are still coming in today and when you're looking at leasing units you have to think long-term anyway."
Cards Direct also seems to hold a place in the current high street market, with online card sales still yet to rival those of physical shops.
Mr Watkins: "With cards, the internet hasn't had the same impact as it has in other industries like gaming or music.
"There's something tactile about cards - people like to come in and browse, hold the cards and read them.
"Saying that we have had a transactional website in the pipeline for a while, and since March, it's obviously become more important for us to start working on.
"We're hoping to have an online shop ready by summer, but for the moment we're still a walk-in shop only."
Cards Direct is a welcome addition to County Square, which lost its Warrens Bakery site in recent weeks.
For more information, visit www.cardsdirect.co.uk