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Business continuity plans for Covid lockdown 2.0

paul hayes seasalt

Paul Hayes, CEO, Seasalt

‘We can fulfil online orders from stores’ – Paul Hayes, chief executive, Seasalt

We had a plan in place for the possibility of a second lockdown, which we implemented on Saturday [31 October] to ensure the safety and well-being of our people and community. Seasalt is resilient and is poised to weather the storm as we continue our transformation into a digital-first business. Read more here.

The government’s policies have helped and, apart from ongoing concerns over business rates, we couldn’t really have asked for much more from them. In addition, we have been renegotiating our rent agreements with our landlords since the first lockdown, hoping to take a partnership approach by supporting each other through this unprecedented time and recognising the need for change to ensure shops continue to thrive on our high streets.

We have been renegotiating our rent agreements with our landlords since the first lockdown

One of the biggest challenges we have faced is that a small minority have not taken a long-term view and it has been extremely disappointing that any of our landlords should resort to exploiting legal loopholes while we all look for ways to reduce the serious impact of shop closures on our businesses and retain as many jobs as possible.

We will continue to focus on growing our online channels, which now account for more than 50% of the business. Using ITIM [Information Technology Investment Management] technology means we can fulfil online orders from our shops and allow a number of store colleagues to keep working safely through lockdown.

Seasalt store reopening in June

While our physical Seasalt shops remain an integral part of what we do, we expect a much higher percentage of sales to be digital from now on. We have just launched a new international website, which allows customers around the world to shop in their own currency and in their own language. Our sales through marketplaces such as Zalando, which we launched earlier this year, will also provide an opportunity for growth during the second lockdown.

It is crucial that our businesses share learnings and support one another. It is going to be extremely tough for everyone. Gauging customer sentiment and striking the right tone in our communication – something we managed to get right during the first lockdown – will be equally important this time around and we remain mindful there could be yet more to come in the first half of 2021.

Victoria Suffield The Hambledon

Victoria Suffield, owner, The Hambledon

‘We definitely learnt lessons from March to June’ – Victoria Suffield, owner, The Hambledon, Winchester

I feel we should have entered this lockdown at least a fortnight ago, and I completely understand the reasons for doing it, albeit rather late.

Obviously it is going to be pretty tricky for us, but we are extremely fortunate to have a very loyal customer base in store, many of whom will migrate to online shopping with us – and we acquired lots of new online customers during the last lockdown, so let’s hope they continue to shop.

My worry is not the short term. We are seeing a healthy trajectory with the website and will be working very hard at communicating regularly with our audience throughout November to drive sales. We definitely learnt lessons from March to June. My concern is a continuation of this current lockdown into December, which will really seriously affect revenue, and possibly more importantly really undermine everyone’s confidence and well being for next year.

We’re treating the next few weeks as an all-consuming challenge

I also think cash reserves for many businesses won’t withstand any further extension. Commitments to forward-order stock for SS21, when the future is so unknowable, feel quite challenging. Our bumper Sale in store at the end of December usually pays the VAT bill and kickstarts the payments for next season. We absolutely can’t have the sale in its usual guise.

On the upside, I think the furlough situation is now more nuanced and a flexible scheme is definitely helpful. Honestly we’re treating the next few weeks as an all-consuming challenge, but I don’t want to be challenged indefinitely.

‘We will engage with the customer whenever and wherever we can – Jo Davies, owner, Black White Denim

We are very philosophical. We did it before so we can do it again.

Our new store, which opened last month, has given us a new lease of life that we will replicate on our social channels. We will be maximising the opportunity to engage with the customer whenever and wherever we can.

We will operate as if it’s business as usual, have as many of the team involved in weekly operations as we can afford, and keep upbeat and energetic. We successfully got through the last lockdown while navigating a store move, Epos [electronic point of sale] switch and website upgrade: somehow this feels a little less challenging. The government support will help us of course and if we achieve what we hope to over the next four weeks, it will be sufficient.

Charlotte Hooper, owner, Laboo London

‘We will be buying more loungewear and versatile tops’ – Charlotte Hooper, owner, Laboo London

Sales over the weekend [30 October-1 November] were good but obviously the news about non-essential retail closing wasn’t the best.

I had a feeling that this would happen, but to be honest I decided not to let it put me off starting a new venture with opening a concept store after the first pandemic. On 3 October we moved two buildings down to 127 Lee Road in Blackheath, into a bigger “lifestyle” store, called Laboo Living. The new shop still sellswomenswear, but now also stocks homeware, ceramics, loungewear and art from local artists, pottery makers and sculptors to “build a community”. I do like to take risks and I think you should always follow your gut instinct and that’s what I did. Read more here. 

The reaction to the shop has been great and the support has been amazing. What I need to do now is work extra hard to get my online business updated with stock as well as offering free shipping and returns. Instagram is a great platform for me, so I will be doing all I can to push sales and promote other independent businesses.

The way our customers buy in the next month will be very different from previous years. For example, November and December in previous years has been the season of parties and celebrations. The shop would be full of party dresses and sparkly tops. This year we will be buying more loungewear, versatile tops which can be dressed up and jeans, as well as lots of slippers.

People are wanting to support independent shops now more than ever

If we are shut for just a month, then it should be fine. For any longer the independent businesses will struggle to pay their suppliers and will be left with stock that will need to be reduced sooner than we had predicted.

What I do know is that people are wanting to support independent shops now more than ever.

If I can keep Laboo running by offering more than a boutique and more of a lifestyle, then this is what I will do. We now have a nail bar in the shop, which has worked very well with the locals. We offer tea, coffee, bubbly and guaranteed girlie chat after a day with the kids or at work. I’m eventually hoping to have workshops offering more to the community, as people are feeling isolated working from home. This way they get an hour or so out a day to do something different and creative.

‘Survival, rather than profit, is today’s mantra’ – Justin Morgan, owner and managing director, HB Shoes

These are very disconcerting times for everyone.

SS21 selling has been severely impacted by SS20 lockdown. The prospect of a four-week hiatus for AW20 fills us with fear for AW21. As businesses we constantly plan, and in the fashion-related trades this means working in at least three seasons: the current retail, the current forward selling and the following season for range planning. This is now dead.

Our own retail store base is now halved

While the furlough scheme has helped, and retail received some support for closure, the wholesale trade has received no support. Although we are retail dependent, we are not a retail trade. This is unsustainable.

Our own retail store base is now halved and, while online is offering some breathing space, it is not replacing the downturn in high street trading.

The consumer currently needs very little, although children’s shoe sales have been strong – driven by need rather than desire – as children’s feet continue to grow. Consumers still have disposable income. However, they have no motivation to shop because of the lack of occasions, reasons to dress up and go out, or even go to the office. Home footwear – slippers – is strong (read more here), but formal- and occasionwear is challenging.

There is undoubtedly a tomorrow, although it  will be unrecognisable from yesterday. Survival, rather than profit, is today’s mantra.

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