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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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.

Retailing is so great. Every retailer is an optimist, a people-person, and a bold risk taker. (We know; we were one.) Every retailer wants to get their stores re-opened, and their staff people re-employed. 

Granted, there are many arguments, pro and con, about "Re-Opening the Economy." And in a number of communities in the U.S. and elsewhere, some re-opening of stores and restaurants is occurring. ​​

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The Retail Owners Institute® has developed a retail strategy for "Inventory Management Going Forward." 

As we often do, it was recapped as an unassuming chart (see above) identifying the Five Stages of Merchandise Mix Management, from "Before COVID-19" to the "New Normal?"

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Customers have become very tentative and “prone to thrift”, as the economists say. As the economy reopens, the lowered sales demand drastically reduced inventory levels. 
  • However, as the inventory quantity is reduced, the new imperative is the mix of merchandise. 
  • Discretionary spending will lag; retailers must expand and feature the basics, the “never-outs,” like never before. 
Here are our BIG PICTURE thoughts on the stages that might unfold.
  • Total inventory levels must be reduced, especially at first, and then grow over time as sales levels return.
  • Importantly, the MIX of merchandise must change. Significantly!
     

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