Retail Opinion: “If you’re in retail to begin with, you already have the perseverance to get through anything”

American retailer Michele Trzuskowski of T is for Tableware in West Palm Beach, Florida, discusses how she is making it through the impact of coronavirus on her business

Unfortunately, there aren’t directions or case studies in the Harvard Business Review that will guide retailers through the coronavirus, and I don’t know of any retailers or restaurants in my area that haven’t been affected.

Who could have anticipated the rapid, almost overnight halt to business based on fears of the unknown? Even with 20 years under my belt as a sole proprietor, I don’t have stockpiles of cash for a rainy retail day, as like most of you, I have already been reengineering my business to compete with online and millennial trends in the tableware and gift industries. What I do know is that if retailers want to come out on the other side of this pandemic, they’ve got to act now.

Here’s some of my thoughts for that action:
• Embrace the situation, it’s not going anywhere at least for the foreseeable future, but it can give us all a new way to approach our businesses.
• Don’t wait to seek out a small business or bridge loan. Go online and submit your paperwork. I’ve done this myself and although it’s very tedious, if there is a chance a small loan may help you through the crisis you should take it. If you aren’t granted one, at least you know you tried.
• Talk to your vendors about eliminating drop ship fees or minimums – if they are still open to ship and you can receive, then do it – I know of many vendors working out of their homes, shipping and receiving.
• Talk to your vendors about extending terms. There are many companies out there such as Faire or Fundbox that have partnerships with vendors willing to give net terms, or check with the vendor themselves.
• Focus on what you do best. If your customer is forced to stay home, than talk to them about what you sell that can make them comfy and cozy while they wait out the storm; a great throw, pillow, slippers, or in our case we have been selling adult paint kits and puzzles.
• Reach out to customers – don’t wait to hear from them. This is a great time to really connect with customers, whether by phone, email, or any of the social media platforms. These messages can really personalize you to your customer. When you can’t open your doors to the public you can access them through one of these portals. We’ve found that although many of them are not purchasing at this time they are sending their well wishes and if anything, this keeps your business top of mind for when you can reopen.
• Try something new. We began to offer free local deliveries within a certain mile radius. This has been well-received since birthdays, weddings, and babies are still being born and some people want to have a gift in hand (and they know purchasing them helps keep us going).
• We also put together some pre-packaged curated gifts at different price points mainly with a “Thank You” gift in mind. At times like these when neighbour is helping neighbour, many want to extend a simple thanks.
I can’t say that doing any of these things have eliminated the fears and it may change how we do business in the future. But if you’re in retail to begin with, you already have the perseverance to get through anything.