Staffing up to reopen a business can be an expensive and risky undertaking. As more state and local governments ease the restrictions related to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, reopening has happened and is becoming an option for more and more business owners. If you haven’t already reopened, you probably will be able to soon.
Here are some steps to consider as you contemplate the big day.
- Get the word out about your reopening,
- Overcome customer stay-at-home inertia,
- Be ready for customers logistically, and
- Be ready with inventory/staff capacity.
Getting the Word Out
In pre-pandemic days, it may have been standard practice for your business to maintain a marketing budget. But if, like many other companies, you’ve had to cut expenses to the bone and the marketing budget has vanished, you’ll need to get more creative by considering all the available marketing options.
Generally, word of mouth is still the most economical way to spread your message — particularly if you’ve already developed a loyal following. And these days, word of mouth includes electronic messaging. Former and prospective new customers will visit your website or social media pages to find out whether you’re open, and if so, what products and services might be new. That information needs to be prominently displayed.
Standard public relations methods targeting your local news media might be more productive today than in the past. That’s because a “good news” story about signs of economic rebirth in your community, such as your reopening, might be more newsworthy in the minds of local media than they were in the past. Perhaps you can contact a reporter who would interview you about your decision to reopen.
Don’t forget about traditional marketing methods, such as advertising and direct mail. Those methods may not have been part of your plans in the recent past, but many of the customers you hope to reach are home bound and have more time to read such messages.
Whatever marketing plan you decide on, your message needs to include a strong enough “call to action” to overcome the inertia of customers who have been staying home. Whether it’s a “grand reopening sale” or “free colorful masks for the first 25 customers” sort of appeal, the point is to get people through your door.
In addition to some pizazz, part of motivating customers to leave the house and walk through your newly reopened doors is reassuring them that their safety is at the top of your priority list. Be clear that you’re following public health guidelines, including: providing enough space for “social distancing;” making sure staff wears masks and gloves as appropriate; offering an ample supply of hand sanitizer; and operating a place that’s regularly and thoroughly disinfected.
Getting the Logistics Right
Limiting hours of operation is a common practice among businesses that seek to manage labor costs and provide adequate time for cleaning the premises. However, you might opt for another, more aggressive strategy. That is, you may want to provide expanded hours of operation to accommodate customers who would prefer to come early or late in hopes of avoiding crowds. Similarly, you could also incorporate “by appointment only” time blocks for the same purpose.
Rather than merely speculate about the conditions (such as operating hours) that would draw your customers back, you may want to conduct a small poll. This can also be done after you’ve reopened if the response to your reopening is underwhelming.
You could ask questions such as:
- We’re preparing to reopen soon while implementing new procedures to safeguard your health by minimizing your physical contact with our staff and other customers. Can we expect to see you within a few days of our reopening? Yes/No
- If “no,” please indicate whether any of these factors are the reason:
- I’m concerned about health risks (even with precautions).
- My budget is more restricted today than it was earlier this year.
- I’ve found another business that meets my needs.
- Would you be more comfortable visiting us if you could schedule an appointment?
If such a survey gives you mixed results, you may have to reopen soon and let customers “vote” with their presence and their pocketbooks. Many people prefer simply to act, rather than contemplate hypothetical situations.
Having Something to Sell
Finally, as you gear up to reopen, remember the old saying, “You only have one chance to make a good first impression.” While what customers experience won’t be a “first” impression for former loyal patrons, it will be their first impression in the “new normal” environment.
If you’re a retailer and open up shop with a depleted inventory, customers might not be as forgiving as you’d hope. After all, in many areas, empty shelves and a lack of personnel were key symbols of the lock down. The last thing you want is to give the impression that nothing has changed.
If you feel you have no choice but to open your doors before you can be fully stocked, be upfront with customers about the situation. Apologize for the inconvenience and assure them that inventory (or capacity for services) are on the way. Since we’ve all been in this together, you’ll likely earn a little sympathy.
Blowing Your Own HornChances are, you built your business to provide goods and services in exchange for revenue, or perhaps to meet a charitable need. Closing your doors felt counterintuitive. But now, as the opportunity to reopen those doors is here or drawing near, use this time to ensure that the reopening is well done. You don’t need a marching band to announce that you’re back, but if you want people to notice your doors are open, you should blow your own horn.