The 2019 census says there are approximately 30.7 million small businesses across the US. According to a report issued at the beginning of April, 54% of small businesses have likely temporarily closed their doors as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. That means as many as 16,578,000 small businesses shut down their operations thanks to the outbreak—but the real figure may be even higher. With numbers in that range, it’s likely your business is one of those that had to put everything on pause to weather the storm.
So how do you go about reopening your business—especially in such a vulnerable time?
When you reopen your business, whether it’s a restaurant, retail store, or something else, you need to keep the continued health of your customers in mind. Many of us have seen the extra safety and sanitation precautions implemented in stores across the country. There are several ways to emulate those steps, as well as adjust operations, to minimize the impact the lingering bits of COVID-19 may have on your customers.
The easiest way to better ensure the health and safety of customers while they’re in your place of business is to start with your employees. Consider establishing rotating schedules, or red and blue shifts. Perhaps you can install plexiglass shields between employees and customers, as well as providing minor Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) like masks and glasses. Additionally, you should allow extra time for employees to wash their hands regularly and sanitize their work areas. If you haven’t considered allowing employees to work remotely, stop and give it a thought. Can Employee A fulfill their role responsibilities from home? Is there a way to adjust your work systems to allow Employee B and their team to work without coming into the office?
Directional shopping is a great way to control social distancing and the flow of customers through your place of business. Place signs and guides to direct shoppers and avoid aimless wandering. Put markers on the floor near checkout or seating areas to help customers keep their distance.
According to the CDC, the elderly are at higher risk for severe illness when it comes to COVID-19. As a result, it’s incredibly important for business owners to take special care with their senior customers. Some businesses implemented special senior hours, where they open the doors a little early (or adjust operating hours in other ways) to allow the elderly an opportunity to shop for the things they need with minimized risk of exposure to other people. It might be a good idea to consider implementing something similar once you decide to open up shop again.
Thanks to the coronavirus, many businesses (both small and large) currently pursue alternative ways to get their merchandise into the hands of their customers. Whether you own a hardware store, run a restaurant, or sell groceries, there are ways to set yourself up for success and to deliver your products to customers. Perhaps you can take orders online (or over the phone) and send out a few employees dedicated to home deliveries. Maybe you could set up an account with a shipping service provider to help you get products to customers in a timely manner. Whatever you decide, there are guides available and other tools to help you learn how to sell products online, if that’s a viable option for your business.
Curbside pickup is booming thanks to social distancing practices. What was once a pleasant convenience for people a little short on time is now a common occurrence in stores across the US. As you work to reopen your business, look into the option of providing curbside pickup to decrease exposure risks for both your customers and employees.
As Americans (and the rest of the world) come out on the other side of this pandemic, much of what we knew and did before the virus will change. Our perspectives and daily practices might look quite different, and it’s incredibly important for small business owners to adapt to those changes. Fear may linger for a while after we’ve received the “all clear,” so find ways to be open to any opportunity you may have to make money both in and out of your store. Continue being health- and safety-conscious, and reassure your customers that their well-being is of the utmost importance. Not only will they appreciate the consideration, but it will help build confidence in you and your establishment.