Posted: Wed 24th Mar 2021
With coronavirus lockdown restrictions beginning to ease, physical shops are preparing to welcome customers back. To help retailers get ready, here are some tips for operating safely and promoting your re-opening.
We also spoke to a retailer about her experience during the three lockdowns, how she is preparing her store and why she believes this is a big moment for independent shops.
We've all got used to social distancing, hand sanitisers and face masks but there are other safety measures you need to bear in mind.
Actions you need to take include carrying out a risk assessment, displaying signs informing customers of the safety measures and restricting the number of customers in store at any one time. There's a more detailed guide to how to reopen your shop safely here.
Your followers will be keen to know you're back so spread the word through your social media channels. Share some behind the scenes images of how you're preparing and the measuring you're putting in place to stay safe. Use social media to remind people of your opening hours and how to access services like click and collect for those who don't want to enter the shop.
If you need some help with your digital marketing, here's a great list of experts.
The chances are you've sold lots more online during the pandemic and have built up a list of email addresses. Use that (make sure they're opted in) to tell people you're re-opening. They may not live in your local area but once restrictions ease further and holidays can take place again, a customer who supported you online may want to meet you in person at your physical shop.
Lots of local media publications are keen to support small retailers in their local area and many are putting together lists of the stores re-opening.
Get in touch with local reporters and tell them your news. National journalists may be interested in your story too. #JournoRequest is a good hashtag to follow on Twitter to spot journalists who are looking for business owners to follow.
For more tips on getting your story in the press, watch this hour long webinar with journalists sharing their insights.
If you're based on a high street with other retail, leisure and hospitality businesses, partner with them. Whether it's having flyers promoting each other's businesses, or running a social distanced and COVID safe event, collaboration between independents can be hugely powerful. There are some great examples of collaboration in the interiew with retailer Sian Currie below.
If there's one positive to come out of the pandemic, it's the increased focus by consumers on supporting local businesses. That trend looks set to continue with a recent study for BBC News and King's College London finding that 31% of people intend to continue to shop locally once the pandemic is over. If consumers know that they can support multiple independents at once, that's a strong reason to visit your shop.
Sian is the founder of Luxury Bubble, an independent department store based in Fordingbridge in the heart of Hampshire's New Forest.
The entrepreneur was inspired to start her business while living in New York and regularly visiting a store that combined fashion, beauty and a cafe. On returning to the UK, Sian noticed that British high streets weren't offering the same experience and department stores were "very bland". She bought a two storey Georgian building and turned her dream into reality. The store has a clothing department, a beauty section offering treatments and a coffee shop.
Opening in December 2019, the shop was an immediate hit. "It was very well received because it's unusual," Sian said. "We have a very attractive high street and people don't to see it full of charity shops and 'to let' signs.
"Community is a really important part of retail, and that is lost with the internet. So many people came into the shop just for a cup of coffee. We had a lot of older people who I thought 'we are probably the only people they've spoken to today'."
March 2020 arrived and Britain went into lockdown. Like millions of other business owners, Sian was faced with what to do next.
Without an ecommerce offering, she recognised she needed to go online but that was initially a challenge. "I wanted my business to be a touch and feel experience because I felt that was lacking in retail. Now I was required to be an online business. That was difficult."
But with times on her hands and the shop unable to open, Sian got to work on building her e-commerce website.
The site went live and with promotion on social media, the sales started to come in. Being such a new business though, Sian didn't have a huge customer base to market to so she looked for other online platforms that could help. She found Trouva, a service which allows customers to buy products online from physical independent boutiques. It worked and Sian's online sales increased to around 40 a week.
With the first lockdown over, Luxury Bubble was able to open again. As well as sanitiser stations and limiting numbers in the shop, Sian invested in an industrial steam cleaner. Every item of clothing tried on by a customer was steam cleaned before being returned to the shop floor. Items such as leather jackets which can't be steamed cleaned were quarantined for 72 hours.
Sian also reduced the beauty treatments on offer including removing some of the lower cost services which weren't commercially viable due to the restrictions.
Sales of clothing fell but the entrepreneur recognised an increasing demand for homeware products as people stuck at home turned to improving their home furnishings. Sian bought in relevant products and they were a big hit. She also re-jigged her 12 covers coffee shop with tables and chairs into a six covers coffee lounge with sofas surrounded by homeware products people could buy including the mugs they drank their coffee from!
Fast forward to Spring 2021 and Luxury Bubble is about to open again with non-essential stores in England able to welcome customers back on 12 April.
Many of the same safety measures and adjustments will be back but with the cafe not able to open until May, Sian plans to offer customers free hot drinks.
She would like a big re-opening party but the restrictions don't allow it. Instead, Sian is partnering with a local pub restaurant for an outdoor barbeque later in the Spring to celebrate. She is also working with a restored 30-seater private cinema in Fordingbridge to run a movie and fashion evening. The Devil Wears Prada will be screened and customers can enjoy a glass of Prosecco and a discount voucher for the shop.
Sian advises fellow retailers to also work with other businesses in their area. "It's all about helping each other. A great high street is not just one shop."
She also believes the times we're all facing can actually be a positive moment for small shops. "I genuinely think this is an opportunity for the independent sector. Many of the big retailers don't want shops because they've got digital models. This is the opportunity for us independents to come in and take back the high streets."
As for whether customers will come back as soon as the doors re-open on 12 April, Sian says there is a huge pent-up demand. "From the women who are tapping on the window, the emails I've received and the messages that I'm getting on social media, I can tell all they want to do is walk into a shop!"
Hello, World is Enterprise Nation's campaign to help businesses reopen and reconnect with customers in physical locations. Get involved.