Midtown BID Chair, Alexander Jan gives his insights and suggestions, as our high streets open up and welcome back customers.
1: Take the opportunity to start over.
If you haven’t already done so (or had the chance to) the lock down is a great opportunity to think again about what you are doing, why you are doing it and how you are doing it! Some business owners will have given their premises a coat of paint or done some remodelling. That might be fine and all that’s required but don’t hold back from thinking more radically! Should you go back to basics? Can you put (say) the environment and sustainability at the heart of what you are doing? Can you change your sourcing strategy to make it more local?
Covid-19 is a nightmare but it is also a fantastic opportunity to really think about your business, what you love doing and how you can change things to your competitive advantage! And plan for the long term – you are running a marathon here – not the 100 metres.
There are going to be challenges ahead – maybe further local lockdowns – so think about your business from the perspective of resilience and how it can overcome what might be bumps in the road ahead.
2: Be welcoming and be positive.
Numerous research studies have found that the mere act of smiling, whether real or forced, can actually induce real positive feelings. this will be the first time a lot of people will have ventured out – in some cases after three or even four months of lock down.
They have basically been frightened off the bus train or transit system and many older or more vulnerable people will have been self-isolating until recently. So, go out of your way to reassure them! Answer any questions they might have about how you are doing the right things to protect them, your other clients, your staff and so on. This will boost their confidence and make them relax. And when customers relax, they will spend and then come back…
3: Don’t scare them with horror stories.
(Covid-19 wise or otherwise). The last thing people will want to hear about is how terrible it’s all been, who you know who may have been ill and so on. Of course, if clients are really insistent, open up! But you don’t want them putting two and two together and making five…
4: Lend them your ears.
You may have been super busy over the last few days or weeks preparing to reopen your businesses. But many of your customers may not have had a chance to have face to face contact with anyone for many, many weeks. Be prepared to listen to their stories and experiences (however you feel about them). They will be so grateful for the chance to just chat and get their own thoughts in order.
5: Now is the time for good ideas!
In the UK and elsewhere, many governments have been using emergency powers to implement restrictions on movement, what can open and what can close. But they may well have also been busy using the same legislation to introduce new ways of doing things without having to go through often lengthy process of consultation, debate and so on to get things going on the ground.
This means that streets might be closed to traffic to allow outside dining, pavements widened to give more space to pedestrians, parking arrangements might change and so on. Don’t miss out! Lobby your local councillor if you have a good idea maybe extending your opening hours, being allowed to serve drinks, put tables and chairs out or having a street festival. These things might make the difference between a successful relaunch for your business and it being a bit of flop!
6: Stay on top of the assistance and support that might be available to your business.
Many countries have put in place relief programmes on things like business rates (property taxes) perhaps local sales taxes and of course employee programmes (furloughing). In some cases, national administrations will have asked state, county or city authorities to administer relief. This might be discretionary (you have to apply for it and make your case). Don’t leave these stones unturned! There is potentially real financial support available that could tide you over the next few weeks or months. So, either contact your local council or go through your Business Improvement District or Association if you have one to find out more.
7: On a related theme make sure you provide feedback to your trade associations and so on about how things are working out.
With many businesses opening for the first time in a long time, the Covid-19 regulations are not going to be perfect.
If you feel something just isn’t right – it’s impractical, expensive or downright wrong – make sure you let the powers that be know. That will help to get the regulations changed and for you and your sector to help to get things right on the ground.
8: Get feedback from your clients and clients about how they feel about the Covid-19 arrangements you have in place.
In some cultures customers might be too polite to let you know what they really think (certainly in the UK) but getting your customer experience right for them (possibly for the long-haul) is going to be so important to getting them to feel safe and comfortable and keep coming back.
Remember that in many cases they may have got used to ordering food or products from home, or people coming to them to do their hair and so on – so you are up against that convenience factor!
Ask them how they feel about their experience with you – make some notes and get your staff to do the same. Then once a day review what’s been said and make changes if it’s safe to so. And if you can’t make things better (for safety reasons for example) make sure you and your teams can explain that to clients. And if your customers say that other businesses don’t have the same arrangements in place, the chances are they are flouting the regulations…
9: Remember your people are your most important competitive advantage.
Retail, hair, beauty are people businesses as much as anything else.
As stated before, customers can buy just about anything (and order in other things) from home. You need to give your clients the enjoyment of your destination! It is what you and your staff can give them that they are probably desperate for by now – great service and experience. To do that you need happy, motivated staff. So (continue) to give them the support they need to keep the show on the road.
10: Finally, don’t be afraid to think about the money.
At least some of your customers may well have more money than they know what to do with. Yes really – households in the UK have been saving record levels of cash during the lockdown with household deposits up £16.2bn in April (compared to £5bn a month before Covid-19 hit).
So, whilst obviously you don’t want to fleece your customers, you should feel free to be creative with ideas for selling on to customers with other products and services they might be interested in. And you could also help to boost your cashflow by getting them to buy in advance – say ten experiences for the price of nine. Make it easier for them to tip your staff too – a lot of your staff may be out of pocket and would be thrilled to be able to make up for lost wages and service that may not have been covered by government payouts.