Let’s face it, the next few weeks of the Coronavirus outbreak are going to be tough for retail and as we all know, the Nursery Industry is already struggling to compete with the multiples and online giants.
We have invited Sally J Hall, Editor of B Magazine, to share a few ideas that may help you keep your existing and gain new customers over the next few weeks, even if social isolation and Coronavirus lockdown measures are put in place.
With a lot more people self-isolating, or just going out less because of concerns over infections, you need to keep up your presence on social media platforms.
Pregnant women and new Mummies have little choice but to carry on as usual to a certain extent and they will need help and advice on products, or just a friendly face to chat to online.
Make sure you keep up your Facebook, Twitter and Instagram posts, telling Mummies what they might need over the next few weeks and what you currently have in stock. Items like nappies and wipes may be in short supply in the supermarkets, so if you have a cash and carry or supplier source, consider buying more in. Send out news flashes when you get a new delivery.
You’ll probably know that some women choose not to trawl around the shops but enlist the help of a baby concierge, who will advise on what they need, help make all the purchases and deliver too.
So become an online baby concierge yourself! The best thing is, you can continue doing this from home by Facetime or Skype even if you feel you have to close your shop. I’ll be sharing our pregnancy and baby must-have lists shortly, which you can use to suggest what pregnant women and new Mummies need – though most of you are already experts at this! This gives you the opportunity to suggest items you have in stock currently, to keep the cash flow coming in.
More importantly, it helps those Mummies feel less alone. Set yourself up, then share on local Facebook parenting groups. Consider having a rota that members of staff cover.
If customers can’t get to your shop, you could visit the shop to pack up some supplies and deliver them locally to new and existing customers. They can pay online (set up a business Paypal account if you don’t have Customer-Not-Present facilities).
When you arrive, the latest ‘Corona etiquette’ is to leave the parcels on the doorstep and step away, keeping physical contact to a minimum. You can also advise customers to leave the packages for 24 hours to ensure there is no chance of contamination. Do not unpack pushchairs and car seats from their outer packaging and direct customers to how-to videos online for set up and use. If a customer is desperate for a nursery set-up, ask your assembler to wear gloves and a face mask out of courtesy and advise the customer to keep out of that room for 48 hours.
As smaller companies are likely to be more heavily impacted than larger ones, try to order in stock from small and well-loved companies that can fill gaps in your current stocks.
From Eco-friendly hand sanitisers to washable nappies, there are ways to get around shortages and keep customers happy and your bank balances a little healthier.
If you are closing for a time, make sure customers know how long for and keep this updated regularly. It may not be possible to do that on Google on a day-to-day basis but you can online and you can post notices on your shop front, giving your contact numbers and social media channels so that customers can keep in touch.
Of course, it’s possible this may lead to your having to respond to customers outside of usual shop hours – but that’s probably nothing new!
If schools close, it’s likely kids’ activities will too, so there will be lots of very bored little people and their Mummies wanting some diversion. Get in touch with local activities and playgroups to suggest they each post videos that kids can watch online.
Play group leaders can post themselves singing clapping and number songs, baby gym classes can show some simple exercises to do at home, local Pilates and Yoga teachers can offer tips on pre- and post-natal exercises.
If you act as a central resource for all this, local parents and the groups you support will remember you. You can also ask them to recommend you for anything parents need during these difficult weeks.
Been wanting to update that database? Filing in disarray? Behind on your invoicing or VAT return? Allowing your staff to work from home may mean they are not helping customers all the time but you can get them working on projects that need doing and also to plan for the future.
When we get through this period, there will still be pregnant women and new parents out there who may have held off on buying products. Put plans in place, as much as you can, to ensure new stock will be arriving for that time and build up a waiting list. Luckily, halts to exports from China are now largely over. If staff are working remotely, sort out a group chat and keep in touch.
Which brings us to…
If your staff are worried about catching the virus, especially if they have underlying health conditions, or are immunosuppressed, encourage them to work from home.
Offer sick pay for those with symptoms and ask them to self-isolate for two weeks as you don’t want sick staff turning up if they feel they have to work to get by. The lowest paid will probably also be able to claim some benefits, so help them by looking into their rights and what they might be able to claim.
Some policies have a Business Interruption clause. Check your policy carefully and talk to your broker to see if you might be able to claim.
Finally, try to cut back on non-essential spending to mitigate some of the potential shortfall in income. If the store is closed for a time, your energy bills will go down.
If you use temporary staff and can do without, your wages bill will reduce. Cut out all non-essential travel and don’t invest in costly new equipment just now. Mind you, don’t cut down on the tea and biscuits – it’s what will get us through this!
Many of you have stocks of B Magazine’s Spring issue now (and if you don’t, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org).
Give copies out to customers to get them to come back to you to make that purchase, rather than going online. BUT make sure you clip a business card or leaflet to the cover so that customers remember just where they saw that great pushchair and where they got that expert advice on which car seat will fit their car.
It also means that customers who pass on their copy to a friend will help bring you even more custom. Deliver one with any local deliveries too, as that gives Mummies something good to read while they are stuck at home. Use social media to let local parents know the magazine is in stock and they can get a free copy worth £4.99.
Keep well, everyone!
Sally J Hall is Editor of B Magazine, the magazine for women who choose private maternity care