Brick-and-mortar retailers have been deeply impacted by the pandemic – sales are down, expenses have increased to meet safety guidelines, and competition from large eCommerce retailers such as Amazon is fierce. Maine retailers need to work quickly to adapt and reimagine how they might serve their customers in a new and different way.
Moving Your Business Forward
We’ve compiled key information to consider as you move forward. As always, never hesitate to reach out to a Maine SBDC advisor for one-on-one assistance.
Now is the time to stop, review, and assess the current state of your retail business. It’s important to assess the impact the pandemic has had and will continue to have on your business. Decisions you make now will have a long-lasting impact on your future and your ability to recover. To access your retail business, you should look at each aspect of your business and how it has been impacted by the pandemic.
Operations & Safety
- Mental health – How are you doing? Farming is normally stressful, pay attention to the mental health of yourself, your family, and your workers. Farm Coaching
- Review what the purpose of your business was when you first began. How have you been filling that purpose or how it may have changed?
- What part of running your business are you most passionate about? What parts of your business are most challenging right now?
- Offerings – Have you expanded your shopping experience with curbside pickup, delivery, and online ordering? What offerings are working and why?
- Location – How is your location affected? Are there as many people driving by?
- Employees – How will you keep employees safe? Will you stagger shifts, encourage distance, and/or limit break room use? Will you provide safety training? Will you provide employees with PPE? Do you need to update your employee handbook or create new procedures? How will you and your employees handle customers that don’t adhere to safety guidelines?
- Vendors – Can you maintain and access inventory? What if your supply chain is disrupted? Do you have a backup?
Finances & Financial Planning
- Revenue – Which revenue streams have been most impacted? What is causing the impact on your revenue? Are your prices still appropriate to cover your costs? Are your customers still able and willing to pay for your products? Are your products still relevant to your customers at this time? What might be deterring customers from purchasing your products?
- Expenses – How much are your fixed expenses? Are there expenses that can be cut? What expenses have increased because of the pandemic? Has labor increased because of more time cleaning or managing online orders? Are expenses up because of spending on PPE and cleaning supplies?
- Cash – Have you determined how much cash your business has available to move forward? How long can you run your business at lower-capacity with the available resources? Will you need to look for additional financial resources?
Customers & Marketing
- Plan – Does your marketing plan need to be updated and adjusted? Does it include engaging customers using more digital platforms such as your website and social media?
- Customers – How is your customer doing? Have their behaviors, spending, or habits changed? How will this impact your revenue?
- Products and Services – Can you adapt your business to hone in on your most successful, core products? Are there unique or new products or services you can offer based on the pandemic? Buy Online, Pick Up in Store (BOPIS) option?
- Communication – How are you going to re-engage your customers? How will you make them feel safe? How will you communicate with them? How can you use digital technologies to increase sales for those who aren’t comfortable shopping in-store?
There is no question that rebuilding your business will take time, effort, and likely money. Consider the following as you work to capitalize on the ‘new normal’:
- Safety First: Visit your safety checklist from the State of Maine from time to time as they do change – HERE. Implement new hygiene and workspace requirements to keep people safe in your business.
- Understand inventory needs and communicate with suppliers and make sure they don’t have any shortfalls. Plan in advance.
- Identify what services to offer, how frequently to offer them, how many staff are needed to meet demand.
- Look at your pricing to ensure you are making a profit. Understand your costs and how they are impacting your bottom line.
- Add specific policies and procedures for employees. Talk with your attorney if you have further concerns related to liability.
- Determine and ensure that there is demand for your service among your existing customer base or target customers
- Identify and capture specific pockets of growth.Have an idea for a new product? Do a pilot project to test the market. Engage the customers in tastings or product feedback.
- Use tactical pricing. Don’t give your services away or discount your services without understanding your costs.
- Make it easy for customers – facilitate online ordering and payments.
- Focus on building brand loyalty by demonstrating high ethical standards
- Help core customers with a pragmatic approach: offer payment extensions if possible, make exceptions for customers in a strategic way
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
- Use the Let’s Be Kind campaign to help communicate that you are “doing business differently”. Encourage the public to practice kindness as you and your team navigate reopening in the pandemic.
- Prepare your customers for a new experience. Reach out to them to let them know what to expect.
- Update your customers regularly on the status of your business.
- Contact with stakeholders, partners, customers, suppliers, friends, family, press, etc.
- Utilize social media and digital marketing outlets. Customers want to be able to visit your website and immediately see that you have updated information related to your operations during COVID-19.
- Remember, your customers and employees are looking to you to let them know how you are going to keep them safe.
You survived, you adapted, and you opened back up! Pat yourself on the back but don’t lose focus just yet. Wouldn’t you feel better with a “safety blanket” plan to protect you against further economic instability?
Planning helps you better understand “what if” scenarios. How long can your business last? Will you have enough cash to get you through the winter? What if an employee gets sick or there is another surge in the virus? Do you need to adjust your hours or close during your slow season? What are your next steps?
All of these questions – and more – can be answered to some extent by business planning. A business plan can be a simple assessment of where your business stands to help guide you and your future business decisions. But it does not have to be a long, elaborate document that takes months to complete. A business plan and the accompanying cash flow projections allow you to set specific goals. It also helps you better understand where you are and what you need to do to survive and succeed.
Planning also helps you manage crises better. It helps you respond in a time of panic, providing guidance on situations that might arise and how to respond confidently. Trust us – your future self will thank you for taking this time to create a thoughtful plan.
Feeling overwhelmed? Need help? Maine SBDC business advisors are experts in business planning. Our strength is that we can be a part of your team and help you review the big picture, discuss your goals and help you wade through the many options and resources to draft a plan to achieve those goals. We can work with you to put together a cash flow projection to be part of that road map. If you need funding, we can help you prepare the documents needed to accompany a loan application. Maine SBDC Business Advisors can guide you through the business planning process and help you feel confident about your next steps (and the future of your business).REQUEST ADVISING
Resources from Industry OrganizationsRetail Association of Maine
The Retail Association of Maine is an organization designed to represent and help Maine retailers. The RMA plays an integral role in the legislative process ensuring Maine retailers are represented, being on the frontline of issues to directly affect the Maine retailers’ bottom lines. The RMA also supplies a membership service for Maine retailers, in which Maine retailers will benefit from immense advising to save your business money, make your business more competitive, and receive more business.
The National Retail Federation is offering resources for retailers during the current Covid-19 pandemic, and providing all the information retailers should know about their State’s current rules, regulations, loan services, and grant services. The NRF will also assist you with advice on how to safely operate your store, grant you PPE equipment, and tools to adapt to the current global pandemic. The NRF’s top priority is the health and safety of customers and workers in retail stores across all of the U.S.