Coronavirus: The undiscovered country

kbbreview managing editor Andrew Davies on what happens now for KBB retailers…

 So, how are you doing?

 I’m sure you’re currently bewildered, dizzy, worried, confused and a million other adjectives that even then don’t quite describe the feelings in the pit of your stomach.

Me, too.

In fact, the one thing I do know with absolute certainty is that you’re not alone and, even though you may struggle to describe it, there may be some comfort in knowing that everyone is feeling exactly the same way.

I’ve been speaking to a lot people this week, as you can imagine, so here’s the KBB picture as I see it. Of course, by the time you read this it might all have changed again…

  • The majority of retail showrooms are open for business and will remain so until officially told otherwise. Most are issuing comprehensive statements on their websites and social media with details of their cleaning regimes and reassurances to customers that it’s business as usual.

  • Many are running an appointment only system that restricts the number of people in the showroom at any one time.

  • Many are openly encouraging consultations via Skype/FaceTime.

  • Many are trying to work out how Skype/FaceTime works.

  • Many have politely, but firmly, asked for no face-to-face visits from reps or area managers.

  • Despite all that, there’s no question that footfall and new enquiries are taking a severe hit.

  • Jobs already in progress are broadly still carrying on with firm advice to fitters on how to keep safe within customers’ homes. However, many customers are postponing installation as they isolate themselves.

  • The supply chain is functioning relatively normally. Broadly speaking, deliveries are coming out of Germany, Spain and Italy, and stock levels are good – in fact probably better than falling demand would require.

  • Issues with products and components coming out of China have – for the largest brands – been resolved as much as possible.

  • But a European shutdown is coming very soon – German furniture factories are either announcing closures for several weeks or running skeleton staff. This is as much to do with the effect of falling demand on a just-in-time manufacturing process as anything else.

  • In fact, the biggest logistical challenge for suppliers is predicting demand – how much stuff do you make/ship/store?

  • And, of course, the hugely unpredictable currency and stock markets and price of oil is making planning incredibly difficult.

  • I’ve yet to speak to anyone who doesn’t think that this sector is in for a severe downturn in consumer demand that could last way beyond the immediate public health crisis.

Not a lot of good news in there, I know, but it’s important we all know where are.

Believe it or not, though, there are things to celebrate, or at least acknowledge.

Of all the people I’ve spoken to in the past week – both retailers and senior figures in manufacturing – I haven’t heard anyone complain.

In fact, every single one has said that while we’re in unprecedented times, we all need to stay positive and focus efforts on the things we can control and not on the things we can’t.

There is a genuine spirit of community and all-in-this-together that has shone through and that, frankly, is also unprecedented.

Perhaps the only remotely comparable recent experiences of the financial crash of 2008 and protracted uncertainty over Brexit has made many of us realise that the only way through times likes these is to hold hands, stay positive, trust each other and trust your instincts.

Moaning, complaining and shouting that ‘somebody’ needs to do ‘something’ doesn’t get customers through the door – literally or virtually.

There has been a lot of talk of compassionately prioritising not just the health but also the mental well-being of employees. I may be wrong, but I don’t remember any of that as the banks were falling over in 2008.

A common mantra has been to say that if most of the population are stuck at home, and with virtually every holiday cancelled, then all their thoughts will turn to home improvement – in other words, if you’re trapped in the house looking at that tired old kitchen or bathroom, you might finally decide to do something about it once you know your job is safe.

I hope that’s true, and it does make sense, but to work it needs the KBB industry to work together to get that customer to decide that is what they’re going to spend their money on.

Here at Taylist Media we sent everyone home this week with the simple message – you may be working from home, but you are not working alone.

So stay in touch, reach out for help and advice and make sure you’re set up for the inevitable pent-up business that is out there waiting for you.

Any day, we’ll be launching a new kbbreview podcast specifically looking at how retailers and suppliers are managing the coronavirus situation. It will be positive, practical, realistic and doom and gloom will be kept to a minimum.

Follow our social media and watch your e-mail for the first episode – I’m going to try to do them every day where possible.

Good luck and feel free to contact me [email protected].

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