As the world faces the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, independent retail shops are struggling with how to handle the crisis. The pandemic is changing our lives, our economy, and our businesses at a breakneck speed.
I know how scary this is right now! As you might know, my sister Karen and I are owners of The Salvaged Boutique in Lakewood, OH. We are feeling the effects of this pandemic alongside you.
Our savvy shopkeepers have so many tough questions to answer right now. That’s why I’ve put together this handy post, to help you consider all of your options during this time.
Read on for advice on how to handle some of the critical decisions you might be facing in the coming weeks and months.
The very first step you should take during this crisis is to get in touch with your bookkeeper or accountant. You need to understand your numbers in order to plan effectively!
Ask for a copy of your Profit & Loss Statement and a detailed Expense List for the past 12 months. If your accountant has time, a 15-20 minute consultation can clarify what the numbers mean in case you aren’t sure. If you use online accounting software such as Quickbooks or Wave, you should be able to print these documents from your dashboard.
Take the time to understand the numbers, and then start asking yourself these questions:
Can you cover the basics for the next few months?
If your business is still doing okay, look over those numbers and see what the bare minimum in sales would be to cover the necessities.
Do you have an emergency fund that you can use if necessary?
Try to hold onto this as long as possible if you have one, but recognize that this might be when you need to use your emergency funds. If you don’t have an emergency fund and are still doing okay, start setting a little aside for the future each month.
What could you liquidate if you needed to?
Selling a big piece of equipment, a display piece from your store, or other items that aren’t vital to your business could help keep you afloat.
If you contribute to your household, could you contribute less in the coming months?
This conversation might be difficult to have, but cutting back on some luxuries at home and having a little less income might be worth considering.
Could you diversify your income stream during this time?
Having diverse income streams is a great way for any business owner to create a security net, and not just during difficult quarters. If one of those options would fit into your current business, now might be the perfect time to create it.
Even if you can’t add a completely new income stream, you can pivot to a modified version of your store. Here are some examples:
- Offer delivery or curbside pickup
- Cover shipping costs or offer a low-cost option for a specific area
- Allow customers to schedule virtual shopping appointments, where you host a video call to show them items
- If you normally offer workshops, doing them virtually is completely possible via video platforms like Zoom. Send participants the supplies ahead of time, then host the class online.
Do you need to let go of some employees or cut back on hours?
Depending on your state’s response to the pandemic, you might not be able to keep your store open at all. It might be time to let go of employees, as you probably won’t be able to pay them if your store isn’t open.
If your employees continue to work, make sure that you get a health policy on paper ASAP with very clear instructions. This should include proper handwashing, how often the store and POS system should be cleaned, and a reminder to stay home if they feel even a little under the weather. Better to have your employees proactively stay home than to risk exposure to COVID-19 if they come into work!
Does your insurance policy cover the owner’s salary during a crisis or disaster?
Not all insurance policies have this kind of coverage, but some do. Call your insurance agent to see if there’s any kind of relief built into your policy.
Could you push back your tax payments, if you owe?
There will be a way to defer tax payments for 90 days (until Tuesday, July 14). It isn’t clear how this will work, but more information should be available soon.
Finally, can you apply for a loan or use your business line of credit?
The Small Business Association has a disaster relief fund that you could apply to, although it isn’t yet clear how long it will take for applications to be processed.
Remember, you need to do what is best for you and your business during this time. Make decisions based on the numbers and focus on weathering the storm. Keeping your business in business is probably very important to you, so make sure that you are focused on that as your goal for any financial decisions you make.
With both international and national shipping slowed down, your inventory might not be as stable as it would normally be. There’s no guarantee that you will still have access to the products you usually have. Now is the time to get creative!
Look for an Alternate Vendor
If your normal inventory comes from an affected country, such as China, Italy, or South Korea, it’s unlikely that your normal vendors will be working during this crisis. Even if your vendors are still working for now, it’s still a good idea to google other options. US vendors might be a better bet for the time being.
Pivot to Local, Handmade Items or Smaller Wholesalers
Another option is to go through any pitches you received prior to this crisis from smaller makers, especially ones local to you. Reach out to them and start building a relationship, so that you have other options in the coming months.
Make Your Own
Depending on the style of your shop, you might be able to make your own inventory! For example, my shop sells home decor, nursery items, and refurbished furniture. We used to do a lot of upcycling and refurbishing ourselves. If we can’t get new merchandise in, we’ll be able to fall back on our refurbishing skills. This won’t apply to every business, of course, but for those that can be creative and make their own inventory, now’s the time.
Search the Savvy Shopkeepers Facebook Group for Wholesalers
If you’re part of the Savvy Shopkeeper Facebook group, use the search box to find wholesalers who might have something you need. If you aren’t part of the group, join today so you have a community of other supportive shopkeepers!
Communicating With Your Customers
Everyone is affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in some way. Your customers are undoubtedly stressed, worried, and concerned. I’ve seen some businesses shut down all of their social media, usually because they don’t feel comfortable talking about anything BUT the virus.
Honestly, I don’t think this is a great strategy! Now is the time to show up for your customers and give them great content. Everyone could use the distraction. Keep communicating with your customers so that they will remember you as the business that brought some normalcy to a difficult time.
If your store is open
Post some graphics explaining the measures you are taking to keep your store clean.
If your store is closed
Post a graphic about how customers can still shop. Click here for an example from my own shop.
Run a contest
This is a great way to keep your customers engaged with you and provide a distraction from the pandemic. Have your customers post a picture of them using your products creatively at home, tag their friends and comment on your post, or share your post to their stories for a small prize.
Go live on Facebook & show up in your Instagram stories
Get over your fears of going Live and utilize this helpful communication tool! This is another way that you can sell or share information with your followers.
Although I don’t recommend running sales unless it’s absolutely necessary but it is an option for getting your customers to buy during a tough time. Your caption could say something along the lines of: “we want to support you during this time, so we’re offering 15% off of our ______. We hope you’ll continue to shop small and support your local businesses!”
Don’t Hide Away
Most of all, just keep showing up for your customers. Keeping them engaged and staying in touch will help your business bounce back once the crisis is resolved, and should help you continue running your business in creative new ways.
Your Mindset & Health
As business owners, we are constantly worried about other people—our customers, our vendors, our wholesalers, our team, and our partners. Of course, these people are tremendously important to our businesses! But during this crisis, your mental health and mindset need to be a top priority. I’ve got a few strategies for you to keep your mind in tip-top shape.
Tackle a Big Project
It might be upgrading your point of sale system, renovating an area of your store, creating an amazing window display, or organizing your storage room. We all have “big projects” we wish we had more time for during our busy season. Why not use this time to tackle it without the stress of figuring out when you can possibly squeeze it in?
Refresh Your Store and Floor Plan
You know how when you re-merchandise one small area in your store your customers find something they haven’t seen before? Imagine if you rearrange the entire store!
If you only have an online presence, now’s a great time to refresh and reorganize your website.
This is a great time to handle inventory and make sure your product quantities are correct and your point of sale system is cleaned up.
E-commerce Set Up
Create that online shop you’ve been wanting to get on your website! This can sometimes involve hiring, but you might be able to use the “quiet” time to do the research yourself and get your online store set up.
Budget Your Finances
If you like a consistent paycheck every month like me, then this one is important. Whether you use the Profit First system or another budgeting tool, make sure you plan out your year so that you can continue to pay yourself during the slow months.
Run Reports and Analyze Your Data
Use this time to run reports in your point of sale system or look at your social media insights. It’s so important to look at your numbers. Identify what is working for your business, what isn’t working, determine if you’re overbuying or under-buying merchandise, figure out what type of social media posts are creating the most engagement and come up with a posting plan for the next few months.
Do Something for YOURSELF
Instead of feeling the burden of having to spend more time at the store to get things accomplished, leave the store when you actually close (or after your normal work hours, if you aren’t receiving customers in store for now).
Get out to spend more time with family, enjoy a hobby, get a massage, read a book, etc. Self-care is important and when retailers are busy, it’s easy to drop the ball on taking care of ourselves.
If social media is draining you or bringing you down, it’s time to put boundaries around Facebook, Instagram or any other platform that isn’t allowing you to feel optimistic. I know it’s important to stay informed but we all know when scrolling the feed becomes unhealthy and obnoxious.
Set a timer on your phone or ask a family member to keep you accountable. Just stop the mindless scrolling and take action or do something productive instead. Try to not go down the rabbit hole in the upcoming weeks. If you’ve already identified this about yourself, how do you plan on using your time?
Last But Not Least, Put Yourself and Your Family First
I know it might feel like everything is scary and difficult, and it is in some ways! We are all facing some trying weeks and months ahead. Even in the worst-case scenarios, though, this situation is temporary.
Remember to put your family, friends, and yourself first right now. Your store can evolve and adapt under your careful leadership, but nothing can replace your loved ones. If you need more strategies for coping during the pandemic, this article has some excellent recommendations for dealing with work-related stress.
- How Shop Owners Can Diversify Income Streams
- How to Survive the Slow Season in Retail
- How to Use Facebook Live – A Beginner’s Guide to Going Live for the First Time
- Shop Owners: 5 Reasons to Pay Yourself NOW
- Group membership with Savvy Shopkeeper
- [07:24] Finances
- [17:25] Inventory
- [24:33] Communicating With Your Customers
- [39:51] Your Mindset & Health
- [45:53] Last But Not Least, Put Yourself and Your Family First