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Coronavirus: Indies seek support as stores shut

Independent retailers have called for clearer information on accessing government support, as prime minister Boris Johnson ordered all non-essential stores to close their doors in the battle against coronavirus Covis-19.

In an address to the nation on Monday evening, Johnson told UK residents they must only leave their homes to buy food or medicine, to travel to and from work where absolutely necessary, for medical needs or to provide care, or for one form of exercise a day.

To ensure compliance with this, he ordered the closure of all non-essential shops, including fashion retailers.

In the face of enforced closures, independent retailers have called for the government to provide further support, and to better outline how to claim that which is already available. 

“It’s good the government has stepped in and the support sounds good but there’s no clear information to try and apply for it,” Rink Bindra, head of omni-channel at independent footwear retailer Tower London, told Drapers.

“It was announced a week ago, banks are waiting for clarification for the application forms – that’s not there. They’re saying good stuff but we need some actions now.”

Tower London had prepared for the eventuality of forced closures with online teams working from home in shift patterns. It has organised back up staff to step in should some team members fall ill.

“We can go for three or four months in this mode,” Bindra said. “Going by what’s happened in Italy and France, online has still traded. It’s not ideal and we’ll do whatever the government wants us to, but we’ll keep going.”

The owner of eponymous London-based womenswear independent Pamela Shiffer, agreed that government guidance must be clearer: “Given the unprecedented times we’re living in, a total lockdown was inevitable, however, we all need total clarity and it’s my feeling the government needed to have all aspects in place before they could release the total lockdown statement.

“Any help the government is offering is a blessing and the only way many of us will survive, however, the business casualties will run deep unless appropriate financial schemes are implanted and made easy for us to access. This is a very worrying time for all businesses in the fashion retail sector, however even more so as an independent retailer.”

Penny Rawson, founder of Cheshire-based womenswear independent The Edit welcomed the government’s measures but said she feared “they may not be enough”.

“Our struggle now will be with commercial rents as we will struggle to pay these with no income,” she told Drapers. “We hope that landlords will see the long-term benefits of helping businesses to survive. Or in the prime minister’s words ‘we don’t want to pass the problem up’. Therefore would he consider rent support?”

”It’s so difficult even for the government to know what to do. Most insurance companies won’t pay out because the wording around enforced closure says ‘if a notifiable disease is AT the premises’.”

She added: “We also need clarification on trading online. We would need a team member to visit the workplace to pick orders and post. This is also a very stressful time in terms of stock management: will we receive too much and be burdened with bills, will we receive nothing and face stock scarcity later in the year? It’s very difficult to tell. It is the dynamic who will survive, and those who are able to adapt will flourish.”

Paul Platt, director of Crewe-based menswear independent Pockets, told Drapers that suppliers and brands were being supportive throughout the ongoing crisis. 

However, he shared Rawson’s concerns regarding stock, and questioned whether autumn 20 product will still be produced: “And if it is, will we be open to sell it, and will people even want it?

”I am quite sympathetic with the government, they’ve done their best in the difficult circumstances. The world will be a very different place at the end of all of this. I’m not expecting it to be all resolved within 12 weeks - it will be much longer than that. It will be a year before getting back to some sort of normality. Then I feel the market will probably change, and people will have gotten more used to shopping online. The high street will suffer further as a result.”

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