The boss of the British Independent Retailers Association (Bira) has been reflecting on what for many independent traders will have been the ’worst year of their business lives’.
As the one-year anniversary of the first lockdown in England approaches on 23 March, Bira CEO Andrew Goodacre has been looking back on the last 12 months. In the last year, independent retailers classed as ’non-essential’ have been prohibited from physical trade for three quarters of it, missing out on crucial pre-Christmas and Easter trade.
Bira has worked tirelessly to ensure the independent retail sector is not forgotten in the pandemic and receives the support it needs to recover including campaigning for extensions to rent moratoriums, furlough schemes, business rates relief, and speedier support grants and loans.
"The past 12 months have been the most disruptive and for many the most challenging for independent retailers. Whilst some retailers classed as ’essential’ have traded through the pandemic, these retailers have had extra costs to implement the necessary safety protocols. For many so-called ’non-essential’ retailers, it has been a year when the shop has been closed more than it has been open.
It has been a year of applying for grants, loans, furlough income to keep the business going instead of serving customers. We have seen accelerated growth of internet shopping and people working from home, and therefore more shopping locally – trends that are set to stay and both are opportunities for the future.
There has been a lot of media coverage about the impact of lockdowns and restrictions on children, the elderly and other vulnerable people - all valid concerns. Yet, there are thousands of retailers, fearful of losing their livelihood and still in the midst of the worst 12 months of their business lives. Yes, they have had some financial support, but it only partly compensates for the stress they have had to endure, much of which is largely unrecognised.
And yet, out of this adversity we have seen great resilience and determination. Having a closed shop has not prevented retailer from being ‘open for business’ as the retailers have turned to digital retailing with improved websites, improved social media and improved engagement of customers. We have seen deliveries and click and collect becoming new ways of working.
I would like to think that we can look forward with more optimism as retailers look to re-build their business. Not every shop will re-open which is terrible. We hope that those that do carry on are rewarded with shoppers appreciating the value of their high street."