After weeks of nationwide store closures amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the governors of Tennessee, South Carolina and Georgia are readying to reopen businesses in their states as early as this week.
While independent retailers are being given the green light to get back to business, there remains cause for concern, say independent shoe stores. While they plan to follow required social-distancing and hygiene guidelines, many intend to layer on their own set of rules in order to keep customers and employees safe.
With an opportunity to turnaround spring business, independent shoe stores are taking their cues from customers, putting game plans in place that include shortened hours, curbside pick-ups and one-one-one appointments.
Still, even with some general ideas, Sherri Tanner, owner of Buckles, a children’s store in Atlanta, said she remains uncertain of how to reopen her business safely. “I’m not sure how to do this,” she said, noting that she’s considering making appointments via an app for those uncomfortable shopping among others.
“I will do whatever customers want me to do,” she added. “I will wear a mask, fit their kids in cars, continue curbside pick-ups.” Tanner, who typically does not open on Sundays, will now be available for shoppers on that day.
Alerting customers that she’s open for business is another challenge. For now, Tanner said she’s planning to post the news via texts and on Instagram.
Fellow Georgia retailer Catherine Boardman, owner of Shoes at Surrey in Augusta, a women’s fashion store, is also uncertain how to go about resuming operations. “While the governor has been quick to say we can reopen, it’s unsettling and making my head spin to figure out what is the safest thing to do,” she said.
Like Tanner, Boardman plans to follow the lead of her clientele. “They will let us know what they want to do and we will respond with what we are comfortable with,” she said. “I can’t say if we will open right back up. We’ll have to see where it goes.”
Currently, Boardman has been keeping her business afloat by offering curbside pick-ups. “It had been going well,” she said, noting that she plans to continue the service.
Despite the go-ahead to reopen, The Perfect Pair, a women’s retailer in Nashville, Tenn., plans to take a wait-and-see approach to determine when it’s safe to open its doors to the public. Until a firm plan is in place, store manager Katie, noted it will continue to focus on curbside no-contact pick-ups along with shipping orders.
Although Coffin Shoe Co. in Knoxville, Tenn. won’t have to make many changes to honor social distancing guidelines in its 10,000-square-foot store, owner Park Coffin said he’s rethinking how to serve customers as a sit-and-fit retailer. “I will continue to measure their feet, but then hand them the shoes to try on,” he said. He also plans to wear a mask and ask shoppers to do the same.
While his store has been closed, Coffin has offered curbside service, an initiative he plans to keep going. Since he keeps customer histories on file with past purchases, he’s been able to easily fill these orders.
However, until business ramps up again, Coffin said he will not bring back the store’s two employees, both full-time workers. Instead, he has opted to run the business by himself along with help from his daughter.
On a broader scale, family-owned Shoe Show Inc., in Concord, N.C., which operates over 1,000 stores nationwide, said its current plan is to limit shopping hours — only increasing them as business warrants, according to Vicki O’Donnell, chief marketing and chief construction officer. “We have instituted specific measures within each location such as cleaning/sanitizing as dictated by CDC guidelines, providing masks and gloves to all associates, limiting the number of customers, closing all but one register and equipping that register area with a sneeze guard and marked social distancing measures,” she said.
The store has continued to pay employees throughout the closure and its internet business remains strong, said O’Donnell. “Our stores are operating initially with a limited staff and will increase to full staff as business dictates, in order to meet the needs of our customers.”.
While O’Donnell said there remain obstacles to overcome, the company is looking forward to getting stores open and resuming a semi-normal routine. “I believe one of the hurdles retailers are going to be faced with will be customers concern for their own safety,” she noted. “We are taking every measure we can to make customers feel secure in their shopping experience with us, but it will ultimately be a personal choice each individual will have to make for themselves.”
Shoe Station, a family-owned chain in the southeast, is reopening select locations and meeting consumer demand for pick up orders. Each Monday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., customers can call stores to place an order. Every location, except the Albany, Ga., store will be open. For added safety, sales associates greeting customers at the door will be wearing gloves. The cardholder will be required to pick up the order with a photo ID, along with the credit card used for purchase.
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