A long, hard battle lies ahead of us…

Ripples MD Paul Crow suggests retailers use the downtime the coronavirus pandemic has given us to make their showrooms the best they can be ready for a big launch event when normality is restored…

Over the past few weeks, we have discovered how quickly things can change. I know many showroom owners that are seriously worried whether they will have a business to come back to – and that’s the stark reality.

LinkedIn is full of reassuring messages from suppliers and networking friends that mean well, but will change nothing about the situation you are in. The reality is that independent business owners are on their own and it’s going to be on us all to solve the problems in our own business. If you don’t have the financial resources to attack the market that is left, you can bet your internet or national competitor will.

But don’t fret, because you might just be able to use that to your advantage.

What you have is speed of response, dynamism, personality, work rate and creativity. If you used some of your home time to switch off in front of the TV, you may have seen Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares. If you have, you will have noted an identical formula is used to solve the same problem in every restaurant.

The formula is to start with a brutally honest assessment of what is offered to the customer. The team are then tested to find out who is up for the fight, who has the initiative, motivation and capability, and then begins the process of simplifying the menu to something that can be consistently executed to a high standard.

Training, quality control and suppliers are all reviewed. The place is tidied up, given a lick of paint and made to look inviting. The PR show of reconnecting with local people starts with a walk through the busy high street with samples and ends with a publicity-friendly event. It works – for as long as the owners believe in it at least.

The advice I am giving our franchisees is no different. Stand outside your showroom and ask yourself whether it looks inviting. If you have chrome and white on your menu in the front window, you have responded too slowly to what customers get excited by. If your showroom is full of tile samples and other distractions, then give it the same spring clean you’ve given your house over the past month.

We focus a lot on marketing on a national level and for the past few weeks we have been flat out developing more content and doing a lot of work behind the scenes to build it. However, now more than ever, a personal and more personable relationship is required on a local level – something that is hard to do through advertising alone.

Once normal life has resumed, look at holding an event in your showroom. Work with as many good local businesses as you can, particularly those that might appeal to the customers you are targeting.

We once held fashion shows in our showroom using the walkways as a catwalk. The local independent clothes store that sold some top Italian brand names brought the models and its customers, while the local delicatessen kept everyone fed. The local beauty salon looked after the models and other local companies offered prizes for raffles and came to support the event for a free glass of wine from the local wine merchant, who also attended.

Would the local media attend? Of course, with a photographer usually, and if they didn’t, we recorded the ‘before, during and after’ stuff and milked it across our – and our fellow local business friends’ – social media and LinkedIn pages.

Key to the recovery of our businesses is speed of response. It literally needs a Cobra-like approach, with our team starting with a conversation around the table to develop a plan. What will happen when? Who is up for the fight? What needs to change and what doesn’t?

It’s going to be one of the biggest tests of leadership in a lifetime as, make no mistake, a long and hard battle lies ahead of us that only the strongest are going to survive. It’s never been different, but it’s a bit more real now.

One person who has done their fair bit to shape the world is Bill Gates. If you haven’t already binged everything on Netflix, I would strongly recommend the series ‘Inside Bill’s Brain: Decoding Bill Gates’. When asked how he responded to every challenge in his life, whether it was with Microsoft or his foundation, his answer was always the same – “work harder”.

Ultimately, it’s not life and death, it’s just bathrooms and kitchens.

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