As the independent gourmet channel prepares to return to some sense of normalcy as social distancing and other protective orders are eased and lifted amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the segment’s buying groups are ensuring members are prepared to open safely, efficiently and legally.
KC Lapiana, president of HTI Buying Group, said she has regularly been in touch with store members about the local policies and processes, so the buying group team can advise how to best reopen their shops.
“Each state, each local retailer that I speak to all have different circumstances,” Lapiana said. “In the Northeast, you have to wear a mask, but in Texas, they don’t. Oklahoma didn’t close at all. Each area has its own challenges. But each retailer has said, ‘OK, this has been challenging, but I’m not going to let it get me down. I’m going to move forward.’”
Lapiana explained she urged her stores to highlight they are practicing social distancing and CDC guidelines, so shoppers would feel more comfortable coming back — especially to a retail location where crowds can be managed.
Janis Johnson, founder and president of GC Buying Group, echoed these sentiments, and said GC created graphics and templates to provide store members with such information upon reopening. Additionally, Johnson noted the GC team continues to stay in communication with vendors as well, so retailers can get the support they need across the industry.
“GC has remained in touch with vendor members in the same way we have kept our connection with stores on the program,” Johnson said. “Up-to-the-minute awareness about options for stores, including special promotions, extended dating and drop shipping opportunities, are updated continuously. Stores and vendors can access information on the ‘Members Only’ section of the GC website to confirm specific details about each member of the group.”
Lapiana said while the COVID-19 crisis could have derailed some in the industry, her retailers fared well and dug in their heels to do whatever was necessary to keep the doors open and the bills paid.
“Our retailers have been optimistic and excited about reopening,” she said. “They are trying to be very positive and figuring out what it’s going to look like because they know it’s going to look different. They are all trying to figure out how they are going to adjust and what opportunities they are going to see. Just because the doors are open, doesn’t mean everyone is coming back.”
As far as fallout from the loss of businesses during the Coronavirus pandemic, Lapiana and Johnson expect a few stores will likely shutter or look for new owners. However, it would more likely be due to additional factors, such as the desire to retire or shifting careers.
“Temporary closures may become permanent for store owners who already were thinking about ending retail careers,” Johnson said. “Decisions to close or sell a store and get ready for the next chapter in life could occur. By and large, most stores will want to stay in business and conform to new ways of communicating with customers and selling products.”
But, added Johnson, she is proud of the industry, which said is made up of individuals who are determined to move past some of the hardest times with the will to survive and thrive.
“Having been in the retail business myself for [more than]40 years, and surviving many difficulties along the way, I have a fairly long history of overcoming the downs and reveling in the ups,” Johnson said. “In my opinion, almost anyone who wants to make it through the struggle will be able to prevail. A big part of success with anything is closely tied to the will to do it. One very important fact about independent retailers holds true — they are passionate and they are determined.”
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