After three months of forced closings, furniture stores are up and running again — and doing a brisk business, too. But there’s no guarantee how long that boost will last as health experts warn a second wave of novel coronavirus is inevitable in the coming months. If stores are forced to close again, what have retailers learned from the first go-around they can lean on for the second time?
In last week’s HFA live COVID-19 Webinar, three Home Furnishings Association members told their peers it’s important for stores to be accumulating reserves. But leaders also mentioned the importance of staying in constant contact with their employees and being as transparent as possible so their staff doesn’t let their worst thoughts get the best of them.
“We fill our buckets with our own thoughts, and those are never positive,” said Stuart Whetsell, director of human resources for HFA member Schewels Home. “It’s always something anxious or something negative,” Whetsell said. “Your employees feel that anxiety, and they feel that with everything going on with that uncertainty.”
Looking back on Schewels’ reopening, Whetsell said it was that communication and transparency that helped many employees get through the shutdown. “Just picking up the phone and making a call to our frontline employees, asking them how they’re doing and ask them what their thoughts were, just giving them an outlet to vent made a big difference,” said Whetsell.
Andrew Tepperman, president of HFA member Tepperman’s, a six-store chain in Canada, said his company began planning for a second wave as soon as it began receiving government relief funding. “Our thought was, let’s pull every dollar we can, out of every resource,” said Tepperman, who said he borrowed “a ton” of money and then invested it in a guaranteed investment certificate that Canadian banks sell. Businesses often purchase GICs for retirement plans because they provide a low-risk fixed rate of return. The principal is at risk only if the bank defaults.
“I’m very nervous that things are going to be even worse if there are more shutdowns (or) the governments run out of money,” he said. “So, it’s almost like buying an insurance policy right now, like by withdrawing all these funds, but it allows us to sleep at night, too. Liquidity is the number one issue for me now.”
Rick Howard, president of Sklar Furnishings in Boca Raton, Fla., said it’s important to pare expenses and build your cash reserves for the coming months. But ultimately, he’s focusing on his staff. “It all comes down, to me, to people,” he said.
He said it’s important for HFA members to keep their staff informed and upbeat. “Those people that are going to carry the torch every day have to be in it to win it,” Howard said. “They can’t be worried. They have to feel safe, and we’ve got to build that environment, for our clients, and our people.”