Last week the BRC released guidelines for non-essential retailers to prepare for life after lockdown.
While the government have yet to implement any timeline for when this might be (though the prime minister is set to layout a roadmap on Sunday), or given any indication as to what non-essential retail stores will look like post-lockdown, the BRC guidelines take into consideration the current advice for essential stores and the practices seen by countries starting to ease restrictions.
Suggestions include putting in measures for staff and customers to be able to practice social distancing in-store, offering personal protective equipment to staff, and having strict hygiene measures in place.
Talking to independent jewellers up and down the country, with stores of all different shapes and sizes, and in a variety of locations from high street shops to shopping centre units, the majority believe the BRC guidelines are achievable.
Managing director of Drakes Jewellers in Plymouth, Andrew Hishman, says: “Most of what has been recommended is achievable. I do believe that PPE in general is beneficial to everyone and have already been making enquiries as to availability of gloves, masks and sanitisers. We, as a business, will do everything we can to ensure we follow the guidelines as best we can to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our staff and customers.
“We will await governments review of lockdown and then make plans. Our store is also governed by the directive of our landlords in the Drake Circus shopping mall so we will comply with their minimum requirements too. The main thing is for us all to remain safe, to continue to help each other and be sensible during these unprecedented and difficult times.”
Helen Molloy, the owner of Forum Jewellers in Dorset, welcomes the BRC guidelines and believe they are extremely beneficial for jewellers wanting to prepare for business when lockdown restrictions ease.
She tells Professional Jeweller: “The guidelines are extremely beneficial as we have just started making our return to work plans. It’s all very daunting to be honest, especially when you measure your shop and realise how big an area of 2 metres is.
“With the guidelines it now gives me a checklist to action. We’ve started measuring up to plan how many customers we will be able to manage and staff too. That’s my biggest concern at the moment. How to determine which staff will return to work as they all want to come back as soon as possible. It looks like we will have to reopen with a closed door policy and queuing outside, letting up to three customers in at a time depending on what they are looking for, and going from five serving areas down to three inside the shop.”
While Molloy admits some of the measures are daunting, being a member of buying group, the Company of Master Jewellers, has given provided her with support. Currently the CMJ is helping members source PPE, as well as offering ways for jewellers to connect and share ideas on a regular basis.
Another CMJ member, Jeremy France Jewellers in Winchester, has also started making plans for a return to work, with director, Harriet France, visiting the store last week to envision what it will need look like when it re-opens.
France says: “There is a lot to consider and I doubt we’ll get everything right first try but I plan to have a lot of processes changed and advised on prior to our return.”
Changes at Jeremy France Jewellers will include re-arranging the store so staff can serve customers while abiding to social distancing requirements, adding screens to serving areas in order to protect customers and employees during interactions, and re-arranging the back officers/ staffroom to spread out the seating areas.
The director also plans to make sure all jewellery is cleaned prior to being handles, and will be making sure surfaces are wiped regularly.
“As business owners it is our responsibility to ensure staff understand the importance from distancing from each other as much as from the public,” says France. “We cannot afford to have one staff member get the virus and pass it to 50% of the team. A second peak in the virus could well come if our thoughts relax about distancing from those we know and are familiar with. We must remain aware and responsible for ourselves, our colleagues and our families.”
The owner of Fabulous Jeweller in Leamington Spa, Jo Stroud, has also been very proactive.
Reading through the guidelines, as well as John Lewis’ plans to re-open, the business owner has spoken to the owners of the shopping centre she is located in and the area’s BID director so she can start putting things in place for when the store doors can be open again.
She remarks: “My feeling is that we need to be prepared now, as I’m not sure how much notice the government will give us. We are lucky being in a shopping centre, as it is slightly easier to manage queues etc.
Plans include mapping out where a queue can form outside the store, organising a one-way route for customers once they are inside, and reducing the serving space.
The jeweller has also decided that only four customers will be allows in store at a given time, and has already printed out large branded floor stickers, which remind people to stay 2 metres apart.
“The big challenge that all retailers are going to have is the ending of the furlough scheme, once we are able to reopen. It is highly likely that high street footfall will stay very low for some months yet, even after the easing of lockdown, and yet we will all have to absorb once again the full costs of running our business, without the full turnover returning.”
Harriet Kelsall of Harriet Kelsall Bespoke Jewellery has been working hard as well, looking through the advice and finding ways the business can abide by them.
The business owners has already ordered gloves and is in the process of getting masks made which can be laundered at 60 degrees.
The next step is to make procedures for when customers are trying on jewellery.
She tells us: “We are thinking hard about procedures when trying on jewellery, how to clean it between customer and team member, how many in each store at any one time, and of course the key is how to best protect our staff and customers at all times.
“Jewellery is about love and connection and we feel sure that people will be wanting to celebrate milestones and just show each other their love at the end of all of this. So we jewellers need to band together and celebrate the fact that we can be part of that symbol for everybody. This is no time for pushy sales – this is a time for collaboration and valuing and supporting each other. We are a strong industry and need to come out of the other side of this stronger!”
Keeping the personal connection is the main concern for jewellers. As John Henn of Henn Jewellers puts it, how can jewellers continue to build relationships when they can’t even smile at clients (if wearing a mask) and they have to remain 2 metres apart whilst keeping jewellery safe and clean at all times.
He remarks: “Historically after the two world wars ‘The People’ went out and celebrated by buying treats and partying, this event doesn’t have the same clear ending in sight.
“Henns will open and work it out as we go being as responsible as we can, the chaos in the food stores has calmed down as we learn to manage our expectations, so long as the state continues to treat us like the adults we are, we will be fine and we will look back and wonder how on earth we made it from where we were.”
Many are still concerned that while there may be an increase in demand for jewellery once life enters the ‘new normal’, customers may still be hesitant to go into stores and favour buying from home.
With this in mind, some jewellers Professional Jeweller spoke to revealed plans to continue promoting virtual services and keep the digital aspect just as strong as the ‘bricks and clicks’ model will be more important than ever before.
For Jos Skeates, who runs EC One in London, he is continuing to focus on engaging customers online.
He explains: “With regard to retail it still feels quite uncertain, so our focus has been on how we engage with our customers. When I first started EC One we didn’t have a shop as such so I used to do home appointments. I would go to a client’s house or flat, show them my portfolio of previous work, talk through what they would like, show them stones and do some sketches. Eventually we would agree on a design and price. As we don’t feel there’s going to be the same willingness to come into London on public transport and queue to be seen we plan to offer the same ‘concierge service’ for our customers. We will set up an appointment calendar and take a small deposit, and talk through what they would like to see beforehand. We hope going directly to our customers is going to give them more confidence and trust than just buying something on-line unseen.”
This is just an overview of what jewellers have been telling us. Throughout the week we will share more specific plans from individual businesses.