13 May Open for Business: Recovering from a Public Health Shutdown
by Sandi Rosner for Stitchcraft Marketing
As government restrictions ease over the next several weeks, you’re probably looking forward to getting your business back to normal. But the coronavirus is still spreading in our communities. While researchers are working around the clock to develop a vaccine, one is not likely to be widely available until sometime in 2021, at the earliest. Until that time, daily life will look very different for most families and businesses around the world. We’ll be creating a “new normal”, conducting a real-time experiment on how to live with the ever-present threat of infection.
While you might be tempted to throw a grand re-opening party and hold a big sale to jump start your business, that won’t be an option for most, and probably isn’t a smart idea for anyone. Here are some things to consider as you make plans to resume your craft business operations.
Physical Changes to Your Store, Office, or Warehouse
By now, you’ve probably seen the changes at your grocery store, pharmacy, or post office:
- Lines or boxes taped on the floor indicating 6-foot distances
- Rearranged fixtures to create wider aisles
- Arrows indicating a one-way flow in aisles
- Plexiglass screens between customers and staff
- Staff at the door to control the number of people allowed inside
- Face coverings or masks required for entry
- Easy access to hand sanitizer and/or disinfectant wipes near doors and at counters
The good news is that these essential businesses have already done the hard work of acclimating your customers to a new environment. The bad news is now it’s your turn.
Begin sourcing supplies and create a plan for installing these physical barriers and social distancing aids. Don’t forget to plan for maintenance. You’ll likely need to enforce some degree of social distancing for months to come. Smudgy plastic screens and peeling tape will not send a message of cleanliness and safety.
Customers and Staff May be Wary
After weeks or months of staying at home, the house or apartment that once felt like a prison can begin to feel like a cocoon of safety. Not everyone will be eager to venture out.
Begin by assessing the availability of your staff. A lack of childcare options may prevent some employees from returning to a normal schedule. Others may not feel safe returning to work because of the threat of exposure to the virus. Those who have been receiving unemployment insurance benefits (including the $600 weekly federal supplement) may prefer to remain unemployed for now.
Customers, too, may be cautious about coming into your store. In the craft industry, our demographic skews heavily toward those who are at greater risk of serious illness from Covid-19. They will likely continue (wisely) to practice some degree of social isolation, even after restrictions are lifted.
For wholesalers, you may find your retail partners reluctant to place orders. They may be sitting on inventory delivered in February and early March. They may be facing severe cash flow shortages. And they’ll be uncertain about revenue projections for the months to come.
Build on What You Learned During the Shutdown
The sales channels you relied on last year, such as fiber festivals, consumer expos, trade shows, and trunk sales, won’t be returning soon. Any strategy that is dependent on a physical gathering of people must be put on hold until next year.
The past two months have forced you to be creative. You’ve had to explore new ways of generating revenue and keeping in touch with your customers. You may have refreshed your website, made a renewed commitment to email marketing, and made inroads into new markets. Did you level up your social media activity? Perhaps you experimented with live video sales and virtual meetups. You may have implemented remote personal shopping or curbside pick-up.
Don’t stop now. Identify the strategies which were most successful and double down.
Communication is Key
Use your newsletter and social media channels to keep customers informed. Send frequent updates about your plans for resuming business. Include details about the steps you are taking to enhance the safety of your staff and customers.
Be sure to frame these communications in a positive light. If you are limiting access to your premises, or requiring the wearing of face masks, you are not imposing restrictions. You are taking action to safeguard the health of your community. Remember that customers like to buy from people and businesses they know, like and trust. Demonstrate that your customer can trust you to provide a safe space. Let them know you understand their concerns and you care about their health.
Set expectations carefully. If you are reopening your brick-and-mortar store, will it take longer to pack and ship on-line orders? If you’re taking special orders, check with the vendor before you commit to the sale. You can avoid disappointing a customer by being honest up front about what and when you can realistically deliver.
Wholesalers should consider personal emails or phone calls to your largest retail partners. Ask how you can support them in reopening their stores. We can expect shortages and delays of many staple product lines due to global interruptions in manufacturing. Be frank about what you can deliver and when. Since you won’t be meeting with customers face-to-face at trade shows, be ready to ship catalogs, samples and color cards. Consider extending credit terms on new orders, if you are in a position to do so.
Community Looks Different Now
If you’re a retailer, you may have started your business with the vision of creating a place for like-minded people to gather. But the days when customers could spend hours in your store gathered around the table are over, at least for now. Take a moment to grieve that loss. Then start looking for ways to serve that vision and your community in these new circumstances.
Every action you take toward maintaining social distancing and proper sanitation serves that community. Slowing the spread of the virus requires collective action. We know that an infected person can spread the virus for weeks before experiencing symptoms of illness, and some never have symptoms at all. Even if you feel well, and don’t believe you’ve been in contact with an infected person, you can be spreading the virus. Having your store become a source of infection would definitely not be good for business.
Cover your face. Wash your hands. Keep your distance. Be the example for your employees and customers. By remaining vigilant, you’ll increase the chance that both your business and your community remain healthy in years to come.
Stitchcraft Marketing has the expertise to help you craft a marketing and communication plan to support a successful reopening. Contact us today to find out how we can help!