Small retailers around the country who have spent the last several months pivoting to create online and contactless shopping opportunities are now facing the next transition: easing back into varying degrees of in-person service as cities move into the yellow and green phases of reopening.
While this is certainly welcome from a business perspective, like all transitions, the process requires careful planning to ensure that business owners create an experience that is not only safe for customers and employees, but that makes them feel confident about stepping through their doors again.
If you own or operate a small retail store, the following tips are key to forming a reopening strategy that will serve you and your customers in the immediate future as well as in reaching long-term goals for growth and profitability:
1. Garner insight from businesses that remained open
Essential businesses around the nation have remained open during every phase of the crisis. From grocery stores to doctors’ offices, there are businesses which have already hashed out some of the logistics of service with safety protocols in mind.
Small retailers don’t need to reinvent the wheel here—just observe what your local supermarket has done and see what could be applicable to your brick and mortar locations. Depending on the layout of your store, you may consider one-way aisles, hand sanitizing stations, and markers on the floor to help customers in line at the checkout counter to observe a six-foot distance.
Beyond the physical measures, however, essential businesses have also been a model of adaptability. They prioritized learning about and implementing the protocols associated with a rapidly evolving crisis, from limiting the number of people in the space at a given time, to requiring face masks where specified by local mandate. A key takeaway for owners of small retail businesses is to choose a point person to keep current with the latest developments and ensure that all are informed and in compliance with changing requirements.
2. Organize and sanitize your physical space
Part of getting ready to reopen your small retail store to the public is getting the space physically ready. In order to comply with CDC recommendations and state requirements, you may have to do a bit of rearranging. Depending on the size of your store and the mobility of stations like checkout and customer service counters, you may wish to spread them out, or to widen the space between racks of clothing or other products.
Beyond what is required, you may also wish to install additional measures, like the plexiglass sheet between cashiers and customers that some grocery stores have implemented.
Once your space is configured in a way that best supports your customers’ and employees’ safety, it’s time to make sure that you have completely sanitized the area, and that you have protocols in place for regular deep cleaning. If this is something you do in-house, now is the time to work out a cleaning plan with your team to make sure everyone is on the same page. If you work with a company that handles commercial cleaning, ask what products and methods they are using to ensure the highest quality of disinfecting and sanitation.
3. Take care of your employees
Your employees’ health is a priority and needs to be planned for as much as you plan for the safety of your customers. Take the time to work with your employees to let them know that they matter to you, and you take their well-being seriously.
Establish your strategy for supporting your employees—and think bigger than simply requiring face masks. Consider your policy on sick days, and the resources you make available to employees to empower them to take care of themselves. Communicate this strategy clearly to let them know what you as an employer are doing to ensure a safe work environment.
4. Communicate with your customers
According to a recent survey, customers cited a business’s health and safety protocols as more than three times as important as good customer service in influencing their decision to return to a store after reopening. The Consumer Health and Safety Index reveals similar data, reporting that 62% of American consumers plan to not shop at retailers which do not take health and safety measures seriously.
The takeaway here is that customers are much more likely to shop with you if they know you are taking their health seriously—and that starts with telling them. Craft a consistent, coordinated message about your reopening that you can deploy across all channels, from your newsletter to social media. Give your customers the confidence to make that first visit back, and when they walk through your doors, provide an experience for them that matches what you promised.
5. Give people options
Even with every precaution in place, some people will still not feel comfortable making in-store shopping trips for a while. And that’s OK, because you’ve spent the past several months building your capacity to meet your customers’ needs in other ways. Consider keeping at least some of those avenues in place when you reopen—both as a way to tap into new markets you may have reached with your new or boosted online presence, and as an option for customers who are not yet ready to visit you in person.
The reopening of small retail businesses signals the opening of a unique opportunity to strengthen your relationship with your customers and distinguish yourself as a leader and innovator in your market. Your team of trusted business advisors, including your CPA or small business accountant, can help you form a strategy for reopening that positions you for a successful transition and increasing profitability going forward.