Open for Business? How to Prepare Your Business to Open Again.

With movement across the UK and Ireland surrounding trade and the Coronavirus how can you prepare your business to reopen? We discuss the four key areas you must consider before opening your business and how you can best maximise your profits whilst keeping customers safe.

10 min read

Covid 19 has caused all of us to rethink the way we shop and how we interact with others. It’s clear there is still consumer demand but social distancing and containment measures have meant that businesses have had to adapt the way they sell or take a break from trade altogether.

There is no ignoring that we are still in the depths of the pandemic, but are we beginning to see a slight glimmer of normality? Governments across the UK and Ireland have expressed their eagerness to restart the economy. However, due to this balancing act of protecting their public and their economy; the speed of which we will see such a resumption of trade is still unknown. Preliminary roadmaps have been drafted and shared with the public, however, these are ever changing being circumstantial and therefore can be given no with no specific dates.

Although little can be done at this stage in terms of physical action this hint of optimism should inspire business owners to begin making their plan on how they’ll operate once restrictions are eased.

Within this article we will walkthrough the EPCE (Evaluate, Plan, Communicate, Execute) strategy giving some guidance on how you can best tackle the restoration of retail.


Look at the Government advice

With so much information about surrounding Covid19, you need to ensure you are following the direction from your national/local governments and reading the advice given by reputable sources. Obviously, the first place you should look for guidance is Government sites and the public health organisations such as WHO which will have the most accurate and up to date information.

If you are following information given by a private source you want to ensure that their advice is based on adequate research and that links/sources are provided so as to check whether their guidance does follow legal regulations.

In terms of the Uk and Ireland you can find the appropriate links below based on the specific region and advice given by the government of each country.

Northern Ireland
Republic of Ireland

It's important to check with your local governments especially as they will have specific requirements you must meet in order to open. For example certain businesses may need specific signage or special measures in place in order to open once again. Government sites will have a wealth of free resources and take advantage of any of these when you can.

Can you still work from home or using home delivery?

If you are currently able to offer a delivery option or contactless is it necessary for you to open again? Yes, there is a chance that you will increase sales with customers being able to visit and browse your store however the level of risk and responsibility is a huge undertaking. You will have to weigh up these sales, anticipating demand, with the price to run your store as well as employee wages and insurance.

You may also find that many members of the public are still uncomfortable leaving their homes and therefore improving your delivery service could still have more value.

You will need to review whether this is the right time for your specific business. It is possible that simply maintaining a delivery option is a better choice and more sutible for your customers. You can always re review the situation in several weeks when we have a greater understanding of the effect of the pandemic and make the necessary changes.


What is the best option for your business

Many businesses will rush to open once restrictions have eased even slightly, however, as mentioned you will need to consider whether this is the right option for your business. Would it be more viable for you to wait and open in several weeks/months, do you feel the level of business will outweigh the costs at this time?

Obviously this is a very difficult situation to anticipate; there is no precedent and every business is different. However, before making any decisions you will need to consider 3 areas,

  1. Your business: Costs of opening, stock management
  2. Your customers: Is your service a necessity or luxury, what is your average customer age, how much does your service/ products cost, will your typical customers spending have been impacted
  3. Your industry: Are you allowed to open, what are others in your industry doing, what is your competition doing, is it an essential business

Conducting an analysis of these three areas will give you a wider scope of whether opening now is the right time for your business.


How will you make your store safe, what measures must be introduced?

Even for those businesses who are allowed to open this is only possible if you are able to implement adequate safety measures. Your number one priority should be to protect, your employees, your customers and yourself.
You are required to create a safe environment minimising any risk of infection. Ways in which you can do this are,

  • Collection points
  • A limited number of people in-store at one time
  • Hand sanitizer and anti-bacterial wipes
  • Two-metre distance markings on the floor
  • A one-way route within your store
  • Gloves and mouth coverings for staff
  • Perspex glass at till points
  • Restricted opening hours

Obviously, the level of measures you must implement is dependent on your business type, however in most cases you should attempt to implement most if not all of these measures before you consider opening.


How will you manage staff?

Once opened you are no longer only responsible for yourself and your actions but also your employees. You must ensure they have the appropriate training, understanding the importance of these safety operations and upkeeping the new regulations.

Arguably effective employee management is one of the most crucial factors to consider when reopening your store for three reasons,

  1. For their safety
    Many of those working in retail have been placed on the front line, working directly with the general public for long hours, in poor conditions. It is your responsibility as an employer to protect them. This does not only mean ensuring that your employees have the right training and protective equipment but also protecting their mental health during this period and distibuting their work to account for this.
    In terms of training you will have to have an initial extensive training session before you open. This however, should be reviewed daily at employee stand ups and signage regarding the Government safety guidelines should be clearly displayed around staff communal areas as a simple reminder.

  2. For the safety of Customers
    Understandably you want to create a safe environment in your store so as to protect your customers. You want them to feel safe and secure whilst making their purchases. If you want to encourage repeat purchases creating a safe enviornment for your customers is vital. This will come naturally if you have an organised enviornment within your store however your staff will also play a key role in the attitude of your customers. If your staff are confident and show stong direction they will inspire this feeling of security creating more loyal customers who know you have their interests at heart.

  3. For your business' reputation
    At times such as these tensions are running high; shoppers are feeling on edge and impatient. You need your staff to uphold your standards and be strong representatives of your business. If your employees are too laid back, ignoring regulations, word will quickly spread and tarnish the reputation of your business. You need to ensure that staff are respectful, patient and supportive to customers, so as to ease their worries.

How will you manage your inventory

Depending on your industry your business will have been closed for a number of weeks and therefore before opening, you will need to take time to go through your stock and ensure you have adequate inventory in order to meet demand.

When taking count of your inventory you also need to consider what it is that your customers will actually need or want. What are the essential products that you can offer? At a time when margins are smaller, you will need to be more sophisticated in your approach, ensuring you are not hoarding excess stocking and doing all possible to minimise your wastage.


For example if a coffee shop is considering opening for take away, is it necessary for you to open with a full menu. Use previous reports to view customer favourites so that you have the products they love in stock. Also, keep an open line of communication with customers, get them active on social media and find out what are the products they would like to see in store once you can reopen.

This will differ depending on your industry however similar principles can be applied. Even if a retail store or sports shop you can only have stock on the shop floor that you feel will actually sell. Also, less stock on the floor allows for more space for customers to feel comfortable and practice social distancing measures.

If you have been using a cloud based Point of sale system, accounting for your inventory should be simple. Through your back office you will be able to view your current inventory as well as accounting for previous reports to help plan for the future. AirPOS' sophisticated POS system allows for complete visability across your inventory and integrates with Xero to allow for real time reporting and accurate accounting. As well as this with the AirPOS reporting app you will be able to view your reports anytime, anywehere allowing you analyse customer buying history and create strategies from the comfort of your own home.


Let you customers know you're open

If you are open again let your customers know! It’s important that you use your social channels and following to get the word out there and make opening times clear. Understandably the public are confused about what can open, what can not and whether they are allowed to leave their house. Therefore it is up to you to make this clear.

As important as it is to inform your customers that you are open, you should also use your channels to communicate how you expect your customers to act when in store. This is a stressful time and by showing you have a plan you will inspire confidence in your customers and prevent any issues in store during busy times.


You may want to also consider what promotions or offers you could run that would really appeal to your customers and entice them to come back to shop with you. Particualrly if you are a store who supplies non essential goods you need to give your customers a reason to come back to your store rather than buy online. At this time with worldwide job insecuity, giving your customers even small discounts or money off opprtunities could be an inticing reason for them to venture outside and support your business.

It is also worth conducting a level of industry research. The world has changed massively since the beginning of 2020 and so will the way you do business. Although you can use previous years/months reports, there has been a huge shift in consumer spending and therefore what customers bought in the past will be very different from what they want now. Try to combine your business reports with industry data such as online search trends, current popular keywords and social media trends so as to have a more relevant view of your consumers.

Highlight to the public what public what measures you have introduced

At this time the general public, understandably, is experiencing a level of anxiety about leaving their homes, even if they’ve been told that it is safe to do so under certain circumstances. Therefore you want to ensure that people know you have taken every possible measure to make your business secure and what they can expect.

Take photos for your social pages and website showing the measures you have implemented in store to help reassure your customers. This level of reassurance is a simple way to display your responsibility, making customers feel more at ease.

Also as mentioned by setting out guidelines and making these public, you are not only meeting customer expectations but also setting out your expectations as a business owner. You are highlighting your code of conduct so that there is no confusion when they are in store, how they are expected to act. As mentioned you have a level of responsibility to protect all those within your store including staff and cannot run the chance of customers creating issues due to negligence.


Report on your progress and check whether there are any changes that need to be made

Using your POS, you can easily view your reports enabling you to run your business more efficiently and in turn more safely. By viewing these reports you can anticipate busy periods and therefore make adjustments accordingly so as to protect your staff and customers. You can also use your reports again to manage your inventory once open, whether to plan a menu or what items are best to have on shelves.


Has opening been worth it? Have you garnered enough business to justify remaining open for the time being?

Anytime you make a major change in your business you should be monitoring its progress, comparing its effectiveness against inital projections. Opening during the pandemic should be no different. Just because you can open doesn’t always mean you should. You may have weighed up the pros and cons before opening but this should be an ongoing process particularly due the volatility of the situation.

This does not necessarily mean closing completely but maybe you have discovered you can manage on reduced hours or even better, that you could cope with extending your trading period due to unexpected success.

Ensure standards are maintained to the highest standard and monitor staff closely

Once open for some time you can not allow your standards to slip or allow yourself to become complacent. You must constantly be monitoring the regulations set out by the Government, making updates where needed and importantly closely monitoring staff. Although you may have reduced hours, you cannot be in store full time and therefore you want to ensure you staff are upholding your standards.


All in all

The most important point to remember is to stay safe. Any decision made must be on the basis that you are able to uphold Government regulations and protect any stakeholders. Yes this is a time to prepare but don't act presumptuously, listen closely to your Government as well as to your customers and your industry. This will give you the affirmation that when you do open it has been a researched and mindful decison which will be more likely to result in greater success.