As some large retailers begin reopening stores ahead of a moderate relaxation of lockdown rules, it’s fair to say things are looking a bit brighter for businesses.
But small retailers and independent stores lack the big budgets, sizeable staff and space that giant chains have and many are wondering how they can prepare to reopen when they are allowed – while protecting employees and customers.
From observing social distancing, to making sure they can deal with suppliers safely and can get enough products to sell, there are many questions that small retailers have. We take a look.
Thousands of small business owners had to shut up shop since the lockdown was announced
DIY stores B&Q and Homebase welcomed customers back earlier in May, while fashion and home retailer Next has shared its safety plans for when the Government restrictions are lifted.
The high street giant said it has plans in place for the repurposing of its stores ‘ready to reopen in a socially distanced world,’ with measures including the screening of tills, distance marked walkways, sanitisation stations and exit and entry management systems.
But not all businesses have the luxury of being able to make such significant changes to their sites – or a 150+ year-old reputation and a large loyal base of customers who will no doubt return to their stores once it is safe to do so.
So, what if you’re a small retail business and you’re just as nervous about reopening your store as you were when you were forced to temporarily close?
Government guidance still prevents almost all non-essential travel, making it difficult for SME retailers and hospitality businesses to reopen – particularly if they have an online presence.
But some are starting to think about how to get back on track when restrictions are lifted and the economy attempts to get back to normality.
This is Money spoke London-based law firm Kemp Little LLP, to answer your biggest questions and concerns, with insights from partner Rachael Barber as well as Aneka Chapaneri, Gemma Lockyer and Anna Byford who are part of its specialist retail team.
Rachael Barber is a partner at Kemp Little LLP and advises business owners to reassess their store layouts ahead of reopening
How can I start preparing to reopen my business?
Tracking Government and industry body guidance and best practice across the sector is key, including overseas in countries where restrictions have already been relaxed.
The Government and the British Retail Consortium have published guidance on social distancing in retail stores and warehouses which provides some useful advice for SMEs.
A focused risk assessment is key, as is communicating the protective steps you are taking and why to your staff as your employees are protected under health and safety and employment legislation.
A clear and open line of communication will be central to developing a workforce that is working together to adapt to the new normal when non-food retailers reopen.
You may need to perform a reassessment of your store’s layout to ensure customers can reasonably adhere to two-metre social distancing when you think about reopening
What practical changes can I make?
Many recommendations are made based on the experience of food retailers which have been operating social distancing for several weeks, however which of these is right for you will depend on the nature of your business.
You may need to perform a reassessment of your store’s layout to ensure customers can reasonably adhere to two-metre social distancing. This might also involve limiting the number of entry and exit points in stores and implementing two-metre queue markers.
If feasible, using plexiglass barriers at all points of regular interaction and reminding colleagues only to come to work if they are well may also help.
Certain retailers may be able offer an appointment-based service, for example, luxury fashion boutiques. Meanwhile, a click and collect service might work for other businesses.
Maximising e-commerce – selling through your own website – will remain extremely important for some time to come.
Should I buy personal protective equipment?
Retailers may wish to provide staff with personal protective equipment though there are already supply issues that health care workers are facing.
It is likely that some stores will introduce longer opening hours to spread footfall across the day, particularly in larger out of town sites.
If staffing numbers are a problem, then opening for a shorter timeframe may be more beneficial than remaining fully closed.
Can I ask my staff and customers about their health?
Asking questions about a worker’s or customer’s health and testing temperatures in store or at entrances involves the collection of their health data.
Retailers should be careful when collecting this type of information as it is given more protection under data protection laws due to its inherent sensitivity.
If you choose to take this approach, it will need to involve being transparent, fair and risk-conscious.
The most important things to think about will be clearly communicating your measures to workers and customers by putting up notices in store and updating website privacy notices and ensuring all measures are monitored and stopped as soon as it is safe to do so.
What should I tell my customers as I plan to reopen?
Communication will be paramount; a decision to reopen needs to be taken at the right time. You will want to let customers know well in advance that you are planning to open but also what measures you are taking to keep everyone safe.
Websites will need to be updated with this information which should also be posted on social media channels, if you have them.
You will also need to be mindful of the reputational risk at stake if you open too soon or if you are seen to take under (or over) reactive measures.
Communication is key: You will want to let customers know well in advance that you are planning to open but also what measures you are taking to keep everyone safe
How do I make sure my supply chain can support me?
You should not assume that you can go straight back to placing orders under the current conditions, as your suppliers may not have the goods themselves or the means of transporting them to you.
We would advise talking to your suppliers openly about what their supply chain looks like and making sure you have received any comfort you need that they’ll be able to fulfil your orders before incurring the costs of reopening your store.
Any discussions which have the potential to alter the rights you have under a contract should be done carefully.
You do not want to accidentally waive any rights or change the terms of the contracts without realising. We would recommend discussing this with a lawyer.
What if footfall does not return?
You can use your online presence to encourage customers back into store, for example by using your social media channels to attract customers with new stock or just to remind them of some of their old favourites, even if you aren’t able to sell products online.
In any online promotions, be sure not to mislead your customers as to the benefits of the sale or the stock available.
Could reopening my store cause my brand harm?
Deciding when to reopen your store requires you to balance many competing pressures. You need to be able to keep your staff and your customers safe, but you also need to keep your business afloat.
You should consider leaving the decision of when to reopen to the experts. By following the official guidance you are less likely to see any form of backlash from customers or any regulatory body which might damage your reputation.
Now is probably not the time to be the market leader but to play it safe.
You should not assume you can go straight back to placing orders under the current conditions, as your suppliers may not have the goods or the means of transporting them
Digital tool to prepare SMEs for a post Covid-19 world coming soon
Small business support network Enterprise Nation is offering to help individual firms plan for a return to work.
It is launching a new tool to collect data gathered from a series of questions firms will need to answer online and match it with Companies House data to create a plan of action for small businesses.
Plans will be designed to help your business identify accredited financial and accounting support, marketing tips, legal, digital and strategic suggestions and a guide to help you manage the unfolding situation.
Emma Jones is founder of small business support network Enterprise Nation
It will also include guides to introducing rotation and home working, PPE policy and safe social distancing for staff and customers.
Emma Jones, founder of Enterprise nation, said: ‘While it might feel too early to think about getting back to any sort of normality at the moment, we are sensing that regardless of whether they have managed to organise a financial package, entrepreneurs want to at least begin to plan for a return to business.’
The tool will be available at the end of May at enterprisenation.com.
Small Business Essentials
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