Nobody knows what will happen next, but store traffic is due to decline for a while. What should you do now?

We polled our store owners and asked them for a status update related to COVID-19 and the store shutdowns and slowdowns.

“Customers are afraid to spend money,” summarized Tary Geesey, Firefly Crossing, Gilbert, Arizona. “Employees are fearful of the customers, especially if they hear coughing. Am offering appointments for customers to shop before and after normal store hours. Have always had tissues, water, and hand sanitizer available throughout the store. Will do local deliveries.”

Closing Down

Several store owners said they were closing down, most of those citing health concerns for their employees. Even among those who stayed open, one retailer said they’re asking they’re older workers to stay home.

Several said they’re going to start working on their website and online store during this slow time.

Using Facebook and other digital channels for direct sales

Brandy Boyd, BMB Designs, Bartlett, Tennessee said she is “offering personal (digital) shopping (like a video walk-through of the store) and shipping product to customers.”

Kiersten Stahl of The Farmhouse in Evansville, Indiana, said she’s using Facebook Live also. “We do a Facebook Live every Tuesday, and we are going to continue that. We are offering free shipping over $75 and curbside pickup. We will take payment over the phone, through PayPal or invoice our customers. We will remain available to our customers in all ways possible. Our customers are responding to all our posts on social media and being very supportive of our decisions.”

Other retailers said similar things. Margaret Flanagan of Aunt Margaret’s Antique Mall, LLC in Newark, Delaware said her customers have told her they’re glad she’s open. She’s been marketing to them via email and Facebook Live Streams. “Many customers have thanked us for being open so they had some place to go,” she said. “Right after the email went out, we had a small surge in business. I know we will be forced to close eventually, but want to stay open as long as we can. We’re taking advantage of these slow times to clean and organize the shop, so we’ll be better than ever when this health crisis passes.”

Cleaning, Cleaning, and More Cleaning

Helen Nejfe, Antiques at the Green, Plymouth, Connecticut: “No public rest room. Sanitizer by cash out area. Offering to deliver local or bringing it out to your vehicle.” Many of our readers added that they’re showing videos of the cleanings on Facebook.

Retailers Advice to Retailers: Strategies for Economic Downturns

Question: Economies are cyclical and it’s been a decade since a significant economic downturn. How should store owners be preparing? What can you do to make your business (mostly) recession-proof?

Tary Geesey
Firefly Crossing
Gilbert, Arizona

“Slow down purchases.  Stock lower-priced items and items that have a function and are not just decor. Push layaway and price breaks for bundling product purchases. Cut store hours to save on employee costs and utilities. Push website(s) to sell to the world rather than just local walk-ins. Find incentives for employees rather than pay increases.”

Elsie Fogle
The Fogle Studio
Orangeburg, S.C.

“No such thing as recession-proof, but buy less trendy items, think of ‘bread and butter’ items that are repeat sellers. [Keeping a] close eye on inventory control will also help bottom line.”

Diane Campbell
Yikes! American Craft Gallery
Center Harbor, N.H.

“Our shop has seen so many changes in the past 27 years and the most challenging is getting the Locals to shop Local! New Hampshire has no sales tax so I post that online and on our signs. I post photos online of new products. We welcome every customer and proudly tell every customer that walks in the doors that everything is Made in America and in limited quantity. We wrap for free, host events with sales & refreshments, are very community involved and hope for the best!”

Alyssa Schepper
Alyssa’s, Alyssa’s Etc, The Refinery at Alyssa’s
Pace, Florida

“For us, as business has peaked and valleyed over the past 16 years, it has been important to monitor our inventory level. We have needed to forego some of those major WOW item investments for the basics that sell day after day.  We do well with $10 candles, $5 devotionals, $20 T-shirts, etc. Staying in stock on those items, has kept the customers happy because those are less likely to break the bank!”

Barb Miller
Interior Expressions by Design, Inc.
Rochester, N.Y.

“Tighten up your inventory. Review your insurances, utilities, etc. Get several quotes. Drag out the old merchandise that you put away because you were sick of looking at it. Old can be new to someone who has never seen it. Change displays often so customers think you have gotten in new items. Try a flash sale … 1 or 2 days only. Have a drawing for something that’s been put away for a while. Give away something with purchase. Free is the strongest word in retail. Use social media to promote anything you are doing in your store. Keep your store clean and organized and be enthusiastic about your product even if you are not.  Let’s hope this recession stuff does not come to pass.”

Greg Elliott
Studio 24E
Glen Burnie, Maryland

“Watch inventory and controllable expenses closely. Offer special orders, to keep from sitting on a lot of inventory. Adjust hours, and staff/payroll accordingly. Continue special events to drive traffic. Listen to what your customers are telling you that they want/need. Small business has the advantage of being able to pivot much quicker than large companies.”

Sue Clabby
Silk & Sage
Prescott, Arizona

“Often I purchase stock not necessarily on the trend but not last season’s design. As it late in the buying calendar, it would be hard to buffer lost sales. Perhaps grouping some items could afford better sales. Home decor and kitchen blend well, as an example. No exact answers here, flexibility is key.”

Elaine Rockey
Crazy Ladies
Northumberland, Pennsylvania

“Control Inventory, write smaller orders and reorder as needed. Reuse merchandising supplies, display items, and table linens — don’t buy new. Concentrate on best-selling categories — don’t take as many chances on unknown items.”

Nancy Witte-Dycus
Fantasy Flowers & Gifts
Thiensville, Wisconsin

“Thirty-five years in business — I watch my spending. I look for interesting events to promote my shop. Customers still spend money on simple items, affordable gifts. I am diverse in gifts and flowers. No matter what I say today is going to be the best day ever. I also have invested in sales training so my staff can sell sell sell!”

Mary Haynes
Kountry Nook
Pekin, Illinois

“People will still shop … but will be thrifty. Have plenty of gifts & other items $20 and less. Keep in stock items that customers can use.”

Chris Headden
Country Card Corner
Seymour, Connecticut

“Go through every expense and see if there is any room for saving. Can you get a better rate on your phone, Sirius subscription, etc. Check timers on lights, thermostats and anything else that runs itself. Can you make any adjustments without jeopardizing the store environment? These might seem minor, but when there aren’t many areas to cut back, every bit counts.
“When it comes to placing orders, scrutinize every aspect. Do I really need XYZ at this time of year? Only refill with what’s selling and spread out meetings with sales reps. If possible, always take the discount and free freight if available.
“As a last resort, if things really start to look scary, send a professional, fact-based request to the property manager requesting a rent decrease. Cite the reasons (sales and traffic down, poor economy, customers don’t have the discretionary income, etc.) for why they should decrease it and say it’s just temporary until the economy picks up. Thank them for working together with you and considering the request. Hopefully they will realize it’s better for everyone if the take a little off than potentially losing all of the rent.”

Helga Soave
Choices Bath and Body
Shelby Township, Michigan

“Start looking at every expense and cut anything that is not absolutely necessary. Use part-time employees with hours you can easily cover. Work on your web presence to broaden your market.”

Ande Spenser
New Orleans

“Broaden your customer base if your shop is too niche. Branch out a little. Do a meaningful rewards program. We keep ours on notecards and call it “six spot.” I read about it from New Age Retailer, someone else doing it called hers six box. Started it the next day. Those loyalty things are great ways to get to know your customers’ names too if you keep it on notecards like that.
“I do a happy hour Tues-Fri 4-7 pm. 10% off storewide. My prices are set to accommodate this so the other hours of the day and all weekend I am making 10% more profit. It seems to be pretty well received.
“Work your [butt] off building loyal repeat customers. Interact [on Facebook] and let them get to know you.
“Part-time employees cost less than full-time ones. I pay $10/hour starting wage and if we have a good day or someone pulls off a great sale then the helpers that day get a bonus. During the holidays we did $20-30 daily bonuses almost every day for 3 weeks in a row. It encourages people to be aware that they actually have an impact on their income. I’m not saying drop your existing staff to part time, but if someone leaves, replace with a part-time employee who doesn’t get benefits.
“Classes and events are another way to increase revenue.
“Low-pain subscription boxes like rock of the month, spell of the month, soap of the month club can be awesome steady income. Several of my friends do it and it’s a wonderful source of steady money.”

Sherrie Ludwig
Copper Horse
Sharon, Wisconsin

“Stick to categories that sell, don’t be tempted to branch out. Hoard cash until or unless you see closeouts in core merchandise. Look at everything, from open hours to packaging, as if you were buying this business, to see where inefficiencies and waste occur. DO NOT FALL IN LOVE with merchandise, if it isn’t turning, figure out a way to get rid of it, from a twice yearly yard sale to just donating it and taking the deduction.”