Reopening Strategy

The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has been variously described as “unprecedented”, “once in a generation” and “the greatest challenge the country has faced since World War 2”.

It’s likely that anti-contagion measures will remain in place, to some extent, for many months to come. The government’s ‘roadmap’ to normality aims to see retailers re-open as part of a gradual relaxation of the lockdown. That re-opening will need to take place in stages.
For traditional retailers, this will be a challenge. In charity retailing, things are even more complex. Staff, volunteers, and stock will need to be managed back into work in a way that’s safe for everyone.

We aim to support Charities as they make this transition. We’ll do this via a range of measures. To provide immediate guidance, we have composed a checklist, which has been distributed through the Charity Retail Association. (Please see the link- This will download the checklist):
No two charity retailers are alike. What works for you might be slightly different from what’s typical across the industry. Thus the most effective support is invariably a bespoke one. With a little bit of consideration, we can identify the optimal re-opening strategy for your circumstances and put that strategy into action.

This is a complex undertaking, and there are innumerable challenges to grapple with. To make the task more manageable, you might think of the challenges as falling into the following categories.

People

Looking after the people who make your business function.

Safety

Ensuring that your business is safe to work for, donate to, and buy from.

Trading

Actually, making a profit.

People

No charity retailer can function without people. For your re-opening to go smoothly, any plans you make should account for the people who’ll put them into action.

Recruitment

The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted some of us more than others. Some of us will have displayed symptoms, and be self-isolating in order to limit transmission. Vulnerable categories of people, such as over-seventies, may be self-isolating as a precautionary measure.

If your shop floor was staffed mostly by retirees, this presents a problem. Younger replacements will need to be brought in. School and college closures may make these volunteers more available in the short-term, and the economic downturn that will likely follow will make many younger people keen to volunteer, if only to have something to put on their CV.

Given that younger people are far more likely to receive their information via social media, it is vital that any recruitment drive features an online component.

Communication

A well-laid plan is worth little if it isn’t effectively communicated to the people who’ll be implementing it. Your volunteers will want to know:

The strategy: the steps you will take.

The timings: the order in which you will take them.

Your expectations: what factors might lead to a readjustment along the way

A lack of proper communication can dampen enthusiasm and morale. Given that charity retailers rely on the goodwill of their volunteers, this might be disastrous. But engaging with the volunteer-base and ensuring that they are informed and reassured will be vital in retaining that sense of community. This can be done through:
  • Regular bulletins
  • An empathetic approach
  • An empathetic approach

Safety

While Covid-19 is the most obvious threat to health and safety, it isn’t the only one. Whatever the cause, a closure of several months can lead to problems developing in the premises themselves, and these must be assessed and dealt with before the store re-opens.

Shops

A deep clean will ensure that the conditions inside the shop are sanitary. Even if this doesn’t appear necessary, a closed store is easier to clean than an active one. A whole room fogging disinfectant will deal with an entire indoor environment for a few hundred pounds. Pests can make their home in vacant premises. Look for evidence of vermin before re-opening. Beehives, rat-droppings and other markers might indicate a problem. By the same token, Legionella bacteria can thrive in stagnant water. Your water supply should be checked by an appropriate company before the stagnant water is drained. The Health and Safety Executive provides exhaustive information on the subject.

Personal Protective Equipment

Just a few months ago, few of us understood what the letters ‘PPE’ stood for. But now, they’re headline news!

Technology of this kind can be vital in limiting the spread of the virus. But, as state-run organisations like the NHS have discovered, getting the equipment to the people who need it can be a logistical challenge. The fact that large organisations like the NHS have run into difficulty might give independent charity retailers cause for concern.

In order to make sure that there’s enough PPE in store, it’s vital to:
  • Perform rigorous and regular stock-takes
  • Order accordingly
  • Take advantage of organisations like the Charity Retail Association
  • Prepare packs for stores and drivers
As well as individual personal protective equipment, like facemasks, one-off investments in Perspex screens can also help to limit transmission – particularly around checkouts. We can investigate whether the cost of such an installation will be feasible in your circumstances.

Consumable sanitary products, like hand-sanitizer and wipes, should be made available in-store. Though the novel coronavirus is mostly transmitted though airborne droplets rather than surfaces, cash payments are inherently risky, and thus contactless card payments should be preferred.

Social Distancing

The two-metre social distancing rule has become a cultural fixture and is likely to persist for a while. Despite this, many of us would struggle to guess just how far two metres actually is. When two strangers come up with different guesses in a closed environment, tension can result!

Markings around the shop can remove the ambiguity and help staff and customers to maintain a safe distance. Similarly, limits can be established for the capacity of each location, based on the size of the shop floor and the layout of fixtures. Announcing this figure prior to reopening, again, will provide the required clarity to customers.

As the situation evolves, so too will advice from the government, and from public health bodies. To stay informed, it’s worth keeping an eye on authoritative websites like that of Public Health England, the NHS, and the CRA.

Trading

The endgame here, obviously, is a return to full trading. To get there, several key considerations should feature in our thinking.

Online Selling

While real-world stores retailers have been hit hard by the pandemic, online ones have enjoyed a sustained boost in sales. Being able to trade online is therefore hugely beneficial. Not only will it create a new revenue stream, it’ll reduce the amount of people that actually have to visit your store physically. Take a look at our website for detailed guidance.

Shop Opening and Donations

Opening and donations are interconnected. Without donations, you’ll be unable to effectively trade – as there will be no stock to sell!

When lockdown is lifted, you can expect a spike in donations. This needs to be anticipated and managed. There’s no reason for donors to visit a branch in person if there’s a separate donations centre for them to visit instead. Opening one confers several advantages. It will:
  • Relieve pressure on your stores
  • Lower the risk to your staff and customers
  • Make the sorting process more efficient
  • Simplify your dealings with third parties, like recycling services.
If you don’t have a suitable location to hand, then another business, or your local council, might be able to make theirs available.

If you’re unable to go this far, you can still take steps to encourage your donors away from high-footfall stores, in order to make best use of the available space, and thereby maximise the social distance.

Communication

Having secured the necessary space for donations, you’ll need to get the message across to your would-be donors. There’s no point in offering the service quietly. Similarly, it’s important to provide clear instructions to your customers, in order to prevent the premises being used for out-of-hours fly-tipping.

Develop a rapport with your recycling contractor, and agree upon a pick-up schedule that’s appropriate for your circumstances. The CRA’s website should be regularly consulted as a source of up-to-date advice from those working directly with these companies.

What about RAG?

With international trade being severely inhibited, RAG prices have collapsed. This has reduced the anticipated income for many charity retailers, which will need to be factored into future budgeting. Clarify upcoming payment arrangements so you have a clear view of the way ahead.

Reopening Stores

How you go about reopening will depend on the availability of your staff.

Consider concentrating your paid resources into fewer branches and using a phased rollout.
  • Prioritise your most viable/profitable shops
  • Provide data through which demand can be assessed
  • Help to road-test your social distancing strategy
  • Ease staff and volunteers back to work
  • Provide an avenue for recruitment
To begin with, restricted opening hours will help you to get things started again. If you are communicative and honest about the situation, your customer-base are likely to be sympathetic.

Layout

The shutdown came midway through a seasonal transition, and so most branches will still have a backlog of winter stock to clear out. Any summer stock that’s available should be used to fill the space. The right pricing strategy might accelerate this process, as might concentrating stock in a handful of open stores.

Space is often tight on charity shop floors, and so it’s important to consciously bear in mind the need for social distancing when you’re relaying. This might mean less visible stock, but if your customers feel that their safety is being considered, it’s a compromise worth making.

Cleaning

In this environment, daily cleaning is more important than ever. Establishing fixed protocols will help to ensure that this obligation is met, and that the workload is split fairly amongst what might be a skeleton crew. In some cases, extra time may need to be set aside to make this happen.

Similarly, all clothing stock in store should be steamed prior to sale. Informing customers of this will reassure them.

Deliveries and Collections

This is likely to be the most difficult thing to manage when you recommence trading.

Face-to-face contact with collecting customers and donors should be avoided, with the products instead being left for collection. Drivers should be equipped with gloves and sanitiser, and frequent hand-washing should be encouraged.

The team should clearly establish the status of any household when making a collection, as contact with self-isolating households should obviously be avoided.

Again, you can find detailed guidance on this subject on the CRA website.

Gift Aid

The economic impact of Covid-19 will make Gift Aid critical as a revenue stream. Your re-opening plans should account for this.

Training

It’s worth getting your shop staff together to inform them of these changes, and to reinvigorate them for the challenges ahead. With so many changes being implemented in a short space of time, confusion can sometimes result. For this reason, new processes and procedures should be logged for later reference. This will help to keep resolve confusion and ensure that everyone is on the same page!