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A bumpy journey for Baptiste – but Sacha weathers the storm

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Sacha Bearden considers herself lucky.

Although her business, Baptiste, has had some knocks – she bought it from her father just before the 2008 financial crisis – she has weathered the storms and good fortune has often come her way.

“Good stuff happens to us,” she says, of the home improvement store on Khyber Pass in Warwick. “I’m the luckiest person you’ll ever meet.”

So it was with the pandemic in 2020, when Bermuda entered its first lockdown and businesses were forced to close to stem the spread of Covid-19.

Baptiste was still riding high on the property renovation boom sparked by the America’s Cup and was geared up for what was expected to be a better than average year.

The store, which includes water heaters and pressure tanks in its inventory, was quickly deemed essential so was allowed to open.

Sacha said the layout of the building lent itself perfectly to the required social distancing.

“There is a door, a window, and a door so we just put a table outside each door and it was like a McDonald’s drive-thru,” she said.

“You came to the first one, you placed your order, you came to the second and you paid your bill and then at the third one you picked up your stuff. It worked out really, really well for us.”

Baptiste had partnered with US-based wholesale distribution firm Orgill long before the pandemic and it made sure the store was well stocked with items such as masks, gloves and hand sanitiser.

But people locked down at home were keen to improve their surroundings, so DIY and interior design products sold well, along with a large stock of garden furniture which Sacha had “splashed out” on that year.

Sacha hired college students who came back to the island – including her children and some of their friends – to act as warehouse runners. None of her existing 14 staff were laid off.

“It wasn’t anywhere near regular sales but it was enough to keep us going.”

She added: “Business really picked up as soon as the restrictions lifted. It wasn’t huge [renovation] projects but it was steady projects.”

Sacha has had to pivot before. She bought Baptiste at the “height of the building boom” in 2007, only to see the market crash with the Great Recession.

“I was then holding a business which was reliant on selling building supplies,” she said. “We had to rethink how we were going to go forward.”

She did just that, renovating the store in 2010 and, after Orgill conducted a market survey, filling it with colourful items, including light fixtures, designed to appeal to Baptiste’s many female customers.

The aluminium windows and doors her father had introduced also remained on offer.

“It was a really good thing for us, moving into just selling more of everything that people needed.”

Orgill remains a valued partner and Sacha regularly attends its trade shows in the US, choosing items which appeal to her and, often, her boyfriend.

The CEO credits her small, tight-knit team of staff who “really know their stuff” with helping to keep the business on track.

The home improvement boom has continued, to an extent, but there have been pandemic-related bumps along the road, such as an industry-wide shortage of paint and increased shipping costs.

Sacha said Baptiste, which also sells kitchens and bathrooms, tried to keep its prices down as much as possible and most customers appreciated the cost of running a business in a country where everything is imported.

“We are not thriving, we are not struggling, it’s just ticking along” she said. “I’d love to say we are doing awesome. It’s not awesome but it’s still pretty good.

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