10 top tips for keeping your retail business afloat during the COVID-19 outbreak

By Gabrielle Stannus

Trying to keep your retail business afloat during the COVID-19 outbreak? We provide some tips to help your business to not only survive, but hopefully thrive throughout this challenging time.

Recent regulations introduced by the Federal and State and Territory governments to help stop the spread of COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) mean the way you can operate your retail nursery has temporarily changed. We provide the following tips to help your business get through this difficult time.

1.Keep yourself, your staff and your customers safe
If you or your staff become ill with the COVID-19 virus, then you will lose the human resources required to effectively operate your business.

Here are a few measures for staying safe:

  • Ensure you practise Government requirements around physical distancing and gatherings.
By now, you would have heard a lot about social distancing, a term which is a little confusing to many people. Experts, including the World Health Organisation, agree that the term ‘ physical distancing’ more accurately describes the need for people to limit personal contact to stop the spread of COVID-19.

In your store, you should ensure physical distancing of 1.5m to reduce in-person contact for both staff and customers. In an enclosed space, there should be on average no more than one person per four square metres of floor space. Ensure that your counter queues are orderly and spaced out appropriately.

Additionally, you are currently not permitted to serve customers who remain seated in your café. However, you are still able to sell take away items. If you have a children’s playground or similar facility, then these too should be closed.

  • Maintain high standards of hygiene
Ensure your employees maintain high standards of hygiene and can communicate expected practise effectively to your customers. Provide appropriate materials to your staff and all visitors, e.g. hand sanitiser and gloves. Increase cleaning frequency in those areas of your store and equipment used regularly, e.g. trolleys, phones, keyboards, door handles, light switches, bench tops. Ask any team members and customers displaying flu-like symptoms to refrain from entering your store.

  • Encourage your Administration Team to work from home
Consider implementing flexible working arrangements for those team members whose work can be conducted remotely. Issues to consider include computer access, server access, passwords and access to meetings (e.g. via Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts). If your staff rely on public transport to get to work, consider rescheduling their working hours to enable them to use off-peak travel.

  • Go cashless
Technology that your business should have adopted years ago should be the new norm. Switch over to those systems which allow your customers to pay digitally. Use ‘Tap & Pay’ as your preferred method of payment, be it by debit or credit card or via mobile phone (aka digital wallet).

2.Reorientate your business model
If you haven’t already, set up new buying options for your customers such as home delivery or click & collect. If you do not have online shopping enables, consider emailing your Garden Club the weekly specials and allow them to email their order. Take payments by phone and include the receipts in their pick-up order or delivery. Reorientate staff to implements simple processes from taking, picking and preparing orders. Establish no-touch protocol for collection or delivery.

3.Communicate proactively with your customers
Remind your customers that you are still open for business! Let them know exactly how you are keeping them safe, your new methods of business and when they can visit your store. If you do not already have a website, email list or social media presence, now is the time to get one!

4.Keep your shelves stocked
Despite what you think, now is NOT the time to run down supply instore. However, you may want to consider stocking more of certain items. Many retailers are reporting a growing demand for edibles, including both seeds and seedlings. Remember also the ‘add-ons’, e.g. potting mixes, fertilisers, mini greenhouses. A great relationship with your greenlife supplier is more critical than ever. If they cannot help you, explore new supplier chains or alternative lines of supply.

5.Remember your loyal customers
Let your repeat (i.e. loyal) customers know how much you value them and how important their business is to your business. Continue to give them discounts. Make sure your merchandising displays remain interesting and relevant to them and send them photos for inspiration. Same goes with your online content. Keep it fresh.

6.Hold online workshops and events
Consider hosting online workshops and events. Value add to make the proposition more profitable for your business. Put together a workshop kit with a list of all the products required for the customer to participate. Encourage participants to register before the event so that you can deliver the materials to them before the workshop commences. Be available online after the workshop concludes to answer any questions that may result.

7.Let your customers know what they can do NOW
The National Garden Bureau in the USA has put together an excellent list of ways that gardeners can carry on gardening through COVID-19 that you can share with your customer base. Ideas range from planting a veggie garden to feed yourself to growing flowers that make you happy. Just remember to link those customers back to your online store (website!) so they can purchase all they need to carry out that activity from your business.

8.Get ready for Spring!
Whilst your autumn sales season is probably looking a little irregular, do not miss out on the opportunities spring may present. By then, we will have hopefully returned to (a new?) normal and people will be itching to get out of their homes. Start informing your customer base on how they can prepare their gardens ready for spring planting.

9.Connect with your local community
Get connected to your community. Residents, community groups and businesses will want to support you during these challenging times. Remember to support them in return. Need an extra delivery driver to deliver all those products sold via your online store? Employ a local.

10.Keep up to date with COVID-19 news
The COVID-19 situation is extremely dynamic and rapidly evolving, Share your concerns and any information updates via the industry’s national information hotline on 1300 905 643. Additional information and resources are also available at www.greenlifeindustry.com.au.

Further reading …
Information for employers: The Australian Government's Department of Health provides important information for employers seeking to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Social distancing for coronavirus (COVID-19): The Australian Government's Department of Health provides further tips for maintaining physical distancing in the workplace.

Coronavirus COVID-19 and Retail: Vaughan Fergusson, founder of Vend, has put together some great tips to help your retail business get through the COVID-19 challenge.

COVID-19 Retailer Action Plan: Vend have also produced this action plan to help retailers get ‘Get on top of the drop’ over the coming months.

Re-aligning Marketing and Customer Loyalty for Retailers During the Coronavirus: Zsuzsa Kecsmar's article for the Business 2 Community website provides more detailed marketing advice to retailers on how they can re-align their marketing strategy to help retain customers during this challenging period.

5 Ways to Retain Your Customers During the Coronavirus Outbreak: This article from the US Chamber of Commerce provides generic advice to retailers of all types.