Communities urged to return the compliment

The world has rapidly changed over the last three months, when we heard Big Ben chime and celebrated the arrival of 2020, who could have predicted not only a new year, but a new decade that by early spring would see the UK in lockdown, along with the rest of the world.

Confined to our homes, we have been setting up home offices and schooling, and will be keeping our distance from work colleagues, friends and family for the foreseeable future. No small business could predict or plan for this unprecedented event, however, The IPG members are quickly adapting to this unusual environment and we would like to share some of their stories with you.

Paton of Walton, in Walton on Thames, remains open for business 8.30am-3.30pm weekdays, 8.30am- 1.30pm on Saturdays, while helping their local community. They are ensuring that local families are keeping their critical home facilities working. Paton’s has considerately adapted its services to deliver to its customer’s doorstep if required. Recently, it helped a local family who were in isolation, they desperately needed a part for their heating system that had broken, meaning their house was cold and they had no hot water. Paton of Walton was able to get the emergency part and deliver to the family, following all Government guidelines. The company is also committed to keeping its staff safe during the pandemic, requesting that customers call first and then collect the goods from their doorstep at an agreed time.

WMI Simpsons, based in Barnet, currently open from 6am-5.30pm, are the self-proclaimed fourth emergency service in its area. Its business is being reactive and remains busy, it is fortunate as one of its specialisms is heating and boiler spares, and it is essential that homes are heated along with water. Local emergency installers are still working hard to ensure that their customers vital services are maintained, and they require parts.

As the events of the past couple of weeks unfolded, WMI Simpsons advised its staff, that it could go home if it wanted to. However, all staff volunteered to stay and continue to work and support the business. The safety of its staff is WMI Simpsons’ number one priority during this health emergency, so it devised a safe method of serving customers, described as a chain gang ensuring that all staff and customers are keeping to the two-metre distance rule.

A gazebo has been set up at the front of the store as a temporary trade counter, so no customer enters the store. There is a sanitising area where every customer is required to wash its hands before being served, and all staff are wearing gloves. Each member of staff is given a specific task, someone picks from the warehouse, another member takes it to the temporary trade counter and one serves the customers. Every customer, including members of the public are being given trade prices. All payment transactions are made by card. 

Golita Supplies, in Blackburn, is currently keeping to its normal trading hours for emergencies but is reviewing daily. Business is slowing and it thinks this is due to jobs finishing and work sites closing. It is analysing stock each day and engaging with customers to try and understand why customers are coming to store. If business continues to slow, it will reduce opening hours to five or six hours per day, and this information will be available on The IPG website.

Like other IPG members, staff are wearing gloves and masks and they have an hourly cleaning rota to clean the trade counter, hand sanitisers are always available and social distancing rules have been implemented within the store.

While many of our IPG member stores continue to remain open for business, footfall has understandably dropped, and several installations have been postponed for the protection of public health. As this national emergency unfolds, our members will continue to face challenges and may have to temporarily close due to staff shortages or Government instruction over the coming weeks.

COVID-19 is an unexpected challenge for every single business in 2020, and while some of the Government initiatives put in place by the Treasury will undoubtedly help the independent merchants, it may not help their immediate cash flow, as they wait for the process of receiving the assistance, to be put in place.

It has never been so important to support your independent merchant who is in the heart of your community and many of them have been part of it for decades.

Please note at the time of writing, member opening times are correct although subject to change throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

*Read The IPG’s brand new column in the April issue of Builders’ Merchants News