Closing the doors to customers is never good for businesses, but it was a necessary sacrifice many businesses made to control the spread of the coronavirus. Now, businesses are getting the green light to reopen, but safety is still a social concern.
It’s important for businesses to take steps to protect the health of their employees and customers. If done right, businesses can bounce back while minimizing the spread of the virus and signaling responsibility and concern for social well-being to customers.
Steps to Open Safely
Businesses that have been closed and are now looking to open their doors can turn to what essential businesses have been doing, for an example of how to mitigate the health risks, and to local and federal governmental guidelines about social distancing for businesses.
Many governmental guidelines are industry-specific and can give you a better idea of how to operate as safely as possible within the limitations of your practice. The following steps provide a general outline of how small businesses can tackle these unique challenges.
If your customers are likely to touch products, it can be helpful to provide sanitation stations. A station at the door can reduce the spread of pathogens by making it harder for customers to bring them inside and removing any viruses and bacteria a customer might have picked up inside the store.
If you have a larger space, you might add sanitation stations around the interior of the store as well. Include signs to ask customers to sanitize their hands before and after touching objects to help keep people healthy and feeling safe.
It’s no restauranteur’s dream to fill only a quarter of the dining area, but operating well under capacity can help staff and customers practice social distancing guidelines and reduce the risk of person-to-person transmission. You can reduce the number of employees on a shift to accommodate the decreased attendance. This helps to lower the cost of opening but still keeps your established name and reputation in the community visible.
Indicate you’re operating at reduced capacity through signs on the doors, outreach to your customers, or stationing a host or hostess at the entrance. You can also mark a safely spaced queue area outside your building if patrons must wait outside.
Alert customers of where you want them to move inside the building by posting signs on the entrance and throughout the area. You might include signs asking patrons to sanitize their hands, wear masks, or maintain a distance from other people.
Create your own signs using a simple PowerPoint or Word document and inexpensively print them in your home or business office. What is the best printer with the cheapest ink cartridges? You can find affordable printers and ink cartridges by HP, Epson, and Brother. Some Brother printer ink and printer models are refillable, allowing you an easy cost-effective way to keep your printer ready for your business’s needs. This is a simple way to add your small business flair to what is otherwise seen as an unfamiliar, stiff, and regulatory way to do business.
Businesses can also use tape on the floor to direct customers around the building and to the checkout line. You can promote social distancing in line by marking a queue number every six feet apart starting from the register or doors.
Many local governments are currently requiring people to wear masks in public. You can comply with regulations and promote customer health by enforcing the rule with your customers. Alert patrons of this policy by posting signs on the door.
It’s never desirable to have to turn customers away, and it’s especially unpleasant when business is bad. To continue to serve patrons who forget masks, consider providing masks at the entryway, near the sanitation station.
Employee hygienic standards must be maintained to safely reopen a business. All of the preceding steps should be applied to employees as well. It is especially important for employees to stay home if they feel ill.
You can help enforce this rule by asking screening questions to your employees each day to determine if they have had a cough or a fever or been in recent contact with someone who is ill. Contactless thermometers are useful for ensuring your employees are not running a temperature.
It is also important to include sanitation tasks more often during employee shifts and to include a more thorough house-cleaning regimen at the beginning and end of each workday. Disinfectant sprays and wipes are an effective way to kill pathogens. Use appropriate products for your furnishings to ensure you don’t damage your equipment from repeated cleaning.
If you own a restaurant, don’t keep condiments on the tables, and remove and sanitize menus after customers have handled them. Spray down and sanitize booths, chairs, and tables when customers leave. Follow a rigorous cleaning schedule for condiments or use single-use salt, pepper, ketchup, and mustard packets.
If You Can’t Open Yet
Some areas aren’t quite ready to open; businesses in these areas may need different solutions to help stay afloat without getting customers through the door. The following suggestions can also be helpful for businesses in places that have opened but which see significantly reduced customer traffic.
Find new markets.
If your customers aren’t buying your usual products, you might need to look for a flexible solution. Consider how your customers’ needs may have changed, and see if you can supply more of that product or service.
For instance, people might not be buying fancy birthday cakes anymore, but, with everyone at home, the market for breakfast pastries that don’t go bad quickly might be thriving. A small bakery might be able to pivot to meet this new demand.
You may also want to advertise to new customer demographics. For example, if your business normally serves busy stay-at-home parents, many people are now staying home for work.
In a bakery, you may want to offer quick lunches or snacks that someone working from home can order during their lunch break. Consider setting up an online ordering platform so they don’t even have to leave their desk to get their hands on their favorite treats.
Even if your new market is less profitable, it can help you make ends meet until you can resume serving your niche.
Look for new methods of product distribution.
You might still have customers willing to buy your product, but they are unable to purchase it normally. In this case, looking for new ways to get your products to customers can pay off. You might modify your distribution channels to provide take out, delivery, or curbside pickup options.
If customers won’t walk into your store, you might take your products to where they need to purchase essential items. Small businesses that form partnerships with larger, essential businesses can find an indirect way to get their products to customers by selling products to these companies first.
Connect to customers.
The steps you take are only helpful when your customers know about them. If you are pivoting to provide a new product, service, or method of delivery, let your customers know.
You can start by sending an email alert to notify your most loyal customers of your new mode of operation. Next, update your website and phone recordings to reflect how you’re currently operating to serve customers safely and effectively. Take to social media and post on local town or city pages, and use plenty of pictures to highlight your business’s safety measures.
You’ll want to connect with your customers to improve business in the short run and also to ensure customers remember you when the economy opens fully. You can build customer rapport by demonstrating you care about their health through safety precautions or other charitable acts.
Offering incentives is a tried-and-true way to increase sales. If you come up with a new product or service you think your customers may like, persuade them to try it with deals or discounts. Use cheap ink cartridges to create flyers about your deals to post on bulletin boards in local supermarkets and reach those who may not use social media.
Use Time to Invest in the Future
Investing in the future during an economic slump is a bit of a risk that requires trust in the future of the market, but it can be a smart business choice that allows you to bounce back stronger.
A season that keeps customers out of your building doesn’t have to be inconvenient if you’ve been eyeing a renovation or deep clean of your business space. Construction is an essential business, so, if you’re ready to remodel, now is probably a great time to do it.
You also might use the downtime to purchase and install new equipment that can improve your bottom line in the future.
Employee productivity can also be improved with certain training, which you might be able to provide virtually or in small groups with social distancing protocols in place. This is a good way to keep your employees productive, even without customers to serve at the time.
Keeping your employees on the payroll is also important in order to benefit from the federal Paycheck Protection Program. Small businesses can receive a loan to use for utilities, payroll, rent, or mortgage interest that will be forgiven if all employees are kept on the payroll for eight weeks.
Modernize Business Operations
This slow point in the market is probably a good time to inspect how your business was operating during the recent economic boom. If you think it might be time to automate some tasks or change how you operate, look into doing that now.
You may have also tried working from home during the peak of the pandemic. Many businesses are considering keeping some or all of their business virtual, even after restrictions are lifted, to save on rent. Now is a good time to try working from home, making online sales and delivering the products through the mail or your own delivery service. If you like this new mode of operations, you might just stick with it.
eCommerce is a fast-growing market sector that is even more important during times of social distancing. Even if your business won’t go fully online, you can still use this time to deepen your online presence. Build or revamp your website and consider optimizing your searchability by writing search engine optimized blogs to direct relevant traffic to your website.
Do some research about new business practices that can help your business move past the pandemic and into the future. Even small simple things can help your business become more efficient and environmentally friendly—like switching out lightbulbs, upgrading computers, or switching to remanufactured ink cartridges.
A depressed market is usually a good place to find low-priced goods. Even if you aren’t using the supplies now, you might want to continue purchasing your business essentials like printer supplies, printer ink, and printer toner.
You can perform a big marketing push to get the word out about your small business. This can bring some customers to your physical or virtual door now and help ensure your patrons don’t forget you when the market opens back up.
As you build your online presence, you might also expand from email lists to social media marketing to reach a larger audience. The work you put in during a time of low consumption can help build a loyal customer base for when the economy improves again.
If you find you don’t have time for marketing during normal business operations, you can create campaigns now for future use. Keep a digital copy so your designs can be easily tweaked later.
Mitigating the risk of reopening commerce is an endeavor that must be undertaken communally to be successful. Integrate teamwork into your game plan to open and keep your business open.
If your community is slow to open, consider partnering with other local businesses or a community organization to craft strategies for a safe reopening that all local businesses promise to follow. The local government will likely be more receptive to reopening if there is a clear safety plan in place.
You can also ask your local government or community organization to help implement your safe commercial practices. For instance, if you intend to offer takeout or curbside pickup, you might ask to have some nearby parking spaces designated for patrons to use while they wait. Other communities are temporarily cordoning off some parking spaces outside cafes for outdoor eating and drinking.
Regardless of what stage of reopening your community is in, there are steps you can take now to position your business to withstand tough times and become stronger while staying safe.
Businesses that choose to reopen to customers can follow safety guidelines to keep employees and customers healthy while building a loyal base. Other businesses may use the pandemic as a chance to pivot or improve their mode of operation for the future.