Independent Retailers and the COVID-19 Crisis

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Since March 2, 2020, The ROI's Co-Founders have been offering insights, strategic approaches, and online resources for independent retailers affected by the COVID-19 crisis.

These appeared first in The ROI NEWS.

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YOU are the leader we need now!

Most of the people who receive our weekly newsletter from The Retail Owners Institute® are either owners of stores (duh...) or work with retail owners, not only in America but around the world.

When you think about it, owners and senior management of retail businesses are looked upon as leaders everyday, by employees, by suppliers, by customers, by their families and often by the media. You are community builders. 

Amidst this pandemic, your leadership is more vital than ever.

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Like every natural disaster, whether a massive storm, earthquake, wildfire, we all are victims of COVID-19. 

Not all of us have suffered being infected by the virus. But, essentially everybody has suffered losses. 

  • The loss of milestone celebrations of weddings, graduations, reunions, birthdays; anniversaries;
  • Lost access to theaters, museums, libraries, sporting events;
  • Loss of the sense of community that comes from going to work, or worship services, book clubs, or the local coffee shop; 
  • Loss of income, job losses;
  •  Or, sadly, the loss of loved ones. 

Few have been spared. 

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A few years ago, during a planning session in our office, we drew a quick diagram on a whiteboard. It showed three shapes. 

  • The large rectangle at the top was labeled "What we COULD do" Lots of good ideas deserved a place in this box!
  • The much smaller rectangle below it was labeled "What  we SHOULD do" Ahh yes, those pesky obligations. 
  • And finally, at the bottom, was a tiny little square: "What we WILL do!" 

Out of all of the potential things we could do, which ones truly warrant our time, energy, and resources?

That picture keeps coming to mind as the COVID-19 shutdown orders on retailers of "non-essential" goods are starting to be lifted. 

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Independent retailers are renowned for being "technology laggards." Those days have to end!

As you wait and worry about re-opening your stores, the state of the economy, the health and safety of your family and friends and employees, here is an idea of what you might do with some of your found time. 

When you do re-open, be sure that you are actually in the 21st Century! Put your energy, your resilience, and your flexibility to use, focusing on improving your IT.

The goal: When you re-open, be even better than your competition! And more relevant to your shoppers.

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There’s an awareness, an “Oh wow!” sweeping around the commercial world. It’s stated in a variety of ways, but it’s the same surprise. 

  • “Working off-site seems to appeal a lot to both employees and employers. Could be another sea change!!!!”

Indeed, some respected urban thinkers are suggesting that 50% of the traditional commuters may want to and will be encouraged to continue to work remotely.  50%?! Yikes. That’s quite a redirection of the parade!

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The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly gained the respect of the general public. 

Surveys continue to show that, while folks are eager to be able to resume moving about, they do not expect to resume their pre-pandemic discretionary shopping and dining activities anytime soon. They are awaiting effective treatments or, even better, a vaccine. 

Main Street restauranteurs and retailers understand that, according to survey results reported April 27.* In fact, these owners anticipate it could  take another eight months – that is, most of the year – for consumer demand to reach the so-called "New Normal." 

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Some thoughts from Nordstrom leadership that are spot on!

  • “We started this company from scratch, so what would we want to be, knowing what we know now? It’s clear we can expect a new normal. And it's up to us to decide what that will look like. We're each being presented with the unique opportunity to create a future worth envisioning.”

That's what Nordstrom President and Chief Brand Officer Pete Nordstrom told Puget Sound Business Journal columnist Patti Payne on April 23, 2020.

And what he succinctly stated is exactly the challenge – and opportunity – that is confronting all retail owners. 

In order to answer whether you should re-open once you can, you first must be very confident in WHAT kind of retail operation you will be re-opening.

The only certainty of the aftermath of the pandemic is that everything will be different. Given that, what better time to re-imagine your business?

Let's assume your stores have been closed for weeks now. 

We recognize how conscientious you are. So, after paying what you can to your employees (and yourself), the next most-worrisome dilemma is your rent.

  • How best to get some immediate relief from each month's lease payment?
  • And you wonder, what would be the best way to negotiate with your landlord?

As you likely have discovered, a common choice for many landlords is to offer to defer your payments. But that means taking on more debt, as those payments are only being postponed to a later point in time. 

You need a better solution than that.

Since 1999, empowering retailers and store owners to "Turn on your financial headlights!"