COVID-19 CONTINUES to spread at a precipitous rate, dominating the news and potentially impacting the positive sales growth trend the independent retailers have been enjoying. Do we close? Do we stay open? What’s the correct and appropriate action retailers should take?
Facing these very difficult questions can be overwhelming and stressful to say the least. We don’t have a crystal ball and we have no way to project the overall impact of COVID-19.
Here’s what we currently do know. February sales growth was up 17 percent for independents in the US, and sales for the last 21 days (February 19 – March 10) are showing a 9 percent increase in gross sales. The first 7 days of March also showed a 17 percent increase in gross sales.
However, other markets are feeling the impact, as evidenced in diamond market expert Edahn Golan’s March 4, 2020 column, “Lack of Confidence Hurts Diamond Prices,” which shows an adverse impact on diamond pricing both in January and February due to the coronavirus.
Although it hit the US later, we would be naïve to believe that the US will be fully insulated from any potential adverse effects of COVID-19. However, there are things retailers can do that will be beneficial now and in the future, including laying out a contingency plan for these types of anomalies.
Focus on the things that you can control.
Assess your slush fund. How many months of operating costs can you cover? If you don’t have one, it’s never too late to start. I used to take 10 percent of every deposit and move it into a “rainy day” account. I cannot tell you how often that came in handy, or just how reassuring it was to watch it grow. If 10 percent seems too high, start with 5 percent or less, but start.
Is it possible to set up remote working infrastructures for some of your team members, specifically your back of house team? Basic bookkeeping or running reports, even clienteling can be done remotely. Remember, the onerous duty is on you, the owner, to ensure the safety and well-being of your employees.
Set their expectations. This virus is affecting all industries and that includes factories, travel, shipping, etc. If you’re working on special orders, you need to be fully transparent with your customers and communicate these potential delays. Have your salespeople utilize their devices to Facetime and Skype with their customers and get as much business completed remotely as possible and with as little contact as necessary.
Assess whether it would be prudent to temporarily reduce your hours and/or adjust the number of team members scheduled during these hours. While we want to have as little impact as possible to our staff’s wages, it is better to make minor adjustments along the way to ensure our operating costs align with the revenues than to wait until the situation is dire and may ultimately require more extreme actions.
Send out an email blast to your customers to let them know your mission is to continue to service them and fulfill their needs while mitigating potential health risks. Let them know you’ve taken steps to keep your environment clean and sanitized.
At the risk of sounding condescending, strategically place hand sanitizers throughout your showroom. Ensure your staff is using it before they show jewelry to a customer. Consider doing the elbow bump instead of shaking hands.
People are showing a fear of crowded spaces. Taking steps to assuage their concerns will demonstrate that you’re being proactive and that you care about your people, your customers, and your community.