James Roberts, director of Leeds-based Sanctuary Bathrooms, gives his view on why this latest Government guidance forcing KBB showrooms to close, is wrong.
“As we are already weeks into the new lockdown period and with only a couple remaining ahead of the review point, I believe it is not a great decision that we have been told that showrooms such as ourselves have had to close again.
“While we have a strong digital presence and can operate online-only, processing and delivering orders as normal, many independent retailers like us also find customers prefer face-to-face conversation – a chance to view what they are purchasing and get expert advice directly. We have taken protective measures to protect the small number of customers who still want to come into showroom by implementing an appointment-only system to minimise footfall and customers coming at the same time, as well as our past investments in protective screens, hand-sanitising points and adherence to basic rules and guidance on mask-wearing, social distancing and QR code scanning.
“The initial outlay to put these safety measures in place was a big investment and cost thousands of pounds to get prepared. There are obviously ongoing costs as well by restocking hand sanitiser and keeping things operating as smoothly as possible, either in the showroom or from people working from home. In terms of the showroom, we changed to appointment only at the beginning of lockdown and we found this to be working smoothly, as we were able to control the flow of people coming in at any one time. It also meant it was easier for staff and customers to social distance, alongside mask wearing when talking to customers.
“Compared to the first lockdown where there were a lot of unknowns and businesses weren’t set-up to be customer-facing and needed the time to put that in place, this latest scenario seems to penalise everyone from ourselves, who have been extremely supportive, to customers who value face-to-face service or who are using this time to do more work on their home. This also doesn’t take into account the number of tradespeople, many of which need to work to keep their incomes coming in, who may want to order fixtures and fittings throughout their working day for essential work later in the week, and who are reliant on ourselves being open for business.
“As we can operate online still, we are keeping normality where we can with sales and deliveries so we are hoping that it won’t prove to be that detrimental. Our customer-focussed approach will hopefully mitigate this via telephone, online and email as well as we look to help anyone who would have preferred face-to-face interaction. However, the uncertainty at the moment over length of lockdown – coupled with these changes – could deter people from undertaking work on their homes or bathroom, and lead to lower sales. Trade demand could also see a drop as a result, so we may see less footfall from that side of the business should they still be able to go to merchants or decide to pause work until after Christmas. It is a waiting game now to see this impacts.
“We will of course adhere to the rules but would strongly ask the Government to review this urgently and reverse the decision back to what it was, and focus on limiting stores to essential items only – which I believe home improvement, and kitchens and bathrooms are.”