Liquor retailers prepare for impact of COVID-19

19 March, 2020 by Deborah Jackson

While highly uncertain, it is clear that the spread of the Coronavirus across the world is having a negative economic impact. And while it’s impossible to predict how the Australian economy is going to fare over the coming months, what we do know is that retailers need to be putting measures in place to protect the health of themselves, their staff and customers, as well as the financial security of their businesses.

With the impact of COVID-19 being felt right across the industry, National Liquor News has reached out to retailers across to country to find out what precautionary measures they are taking at this time of unprecedented challenge.

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Julie Ryan, the CEO of Retail Drinks Australia, told National Liquor News that the most important thing for retailers to do at this time is to focus on their own and their employees’ mental health and resilience.

“Whilst it is entirely impossible to predict where the Australian economy will be in six months or even one month’s time for that matter, what we do know is that this is going to be an incredibly challenging time for retailers both economically and psychologically. Retail Drinks is focusing on supporting its members in respect of both of these challenges by encouraging all retailers to put in place appropriate measures now and throughout this period of uncertainty, to address both the financial health of their business, and the physical and emotional wellbeing of themselves and their staff.

“Economically, Retail Drinks is amplifying its efforts to support retailers with even more discounts and efficiencies they can apply to their business to alleviate financial stress, and will utilise its associate partners such as REST to regularly communicate how financial health can be supported.

“Retail Drinks has also distributed to all Members a comprehensive guide advising of how to respond to the various challenges presented by COVID-19, both in relation to physical as well as financial wellbeing. This guide doesn’t just cover the most front of mind issues such as advice in relation to management of staff and leave, hygiene and safety procedures in-store, and what to do if a staff member shows symptoms or tests positive for the virus – it also covers advice in relation to maintaining emotional wellbeing for both retailers and their employees.

“Further, because we know at this time members need support more than ever, Retail Drinks is still continuing with its program of regular in-store visits through our Membership Services Team and any Members with concerns or seeking advice should contact our dedicated Member Hotline on 1300 451 213 to receive over the phone advice, or book an in-store visit. Retail Drinks will continue to provide all Members with regular updates concerning COVID-19 as soon as further information becomes available.”

Ensuring small businesses survive

Peter Peck, the CEO of Liquor Stores Association of Western Australia (LSA WA) has told National Liquor News that limiting the impact on small business is not an unsurmountable task and all it will take is for the business community to pull together.

“With the effects of COVID-19 becoming more and more prevalent the retail industry should be aware of precautions that it should take for the sake of its staff and customers.

“The bigger evolving issues are more around the ongoing viability and survival of small business.

“Every small business is operating under a cloud in these uncertain times. What we need is the whole business community to pull together.

“There is no doubt that we are all looking down the barrel of heightened financial stress be it staffing, utility bills, rents, overdrafts and loan repayments just to name a few.

“No employer wants to see good staff go and most will hold onto them for as long as they can. It’s up to everyone to play their part to ensure they have the best chance to be retained. We need to act proactively before a store’s traffic reduces (which will as things are tracking) or ceases if they are forced to close.”

Peck calls on landlords to adopt a long-term approach that will give their tenants the best possible chance of making it through the current economic environment. He also calls on banks and Local, State and Federal Government to step up for small business.

“A simple reduction of rent for a fixed period can have an enormous impact on ensuring a tenant can weather this storm and come out the other side. Sure, it will mean taking a haircut for a short time but it will mean you will have a greater opportunity to have a good sitting tenant. Remember, if you lose the tenant you lose future income and may be waiting a while before you can lease the space again.

“Banks and financial institutions have got to play their part. A freeze on repayments with a restructure of the period to repay will ensure that the small business has a better chance to survive and the bank will over time recoup the outstanding funds.

Federal, State and Local Governments need to step up to the mark, however more needs to be done. We need every small business retailer to be given relief from utilities charges. Although the doors may be forced to close, the power and charges will continue to mount. This is in the hands of every government to address. I applaud the states that have moved on this and hope others will learn from their proactive approach.”

Protecting staff, customers and supply

As an industry we are facing an ambiguous and complex situation, but the overall sentiment is that we need to do all we can to minimise health risks and ensure the continued supply of goods.

Corey Leeson, General Manager at Independent Liquor Retailers (ILR) told National Liquor News that his main objective is to keep members informed of four main things:

  1. Using better hygiene and cleanliness practices in-store to reduce spread.
  2. Putting plans in place in case of lockdown or if a staff member becomes infected.
  3. Keeping members informed of any potential issues around deliveries of stock from suppliers.
  4. Making sure members understand where they can go for assistance (financial, medical) and what their rights are regarding employees.

“It is all so crazy and there are no hard and fast rules,” says Leeson. “If we continue to perpetuate the hysteria surrounding this virus it will only make people panic more.

“Our job is to provide guidance, keep them [members] informed of anything directly affecting them and that we will assist in any way we possibly can. Stores need to be informed to make the decisions that best mitigates the impact on their business. All areas have different levels of impact and therefore different measures need to be taken.

“In the end most of this is beyond our control and will ultimately impact us all. But this will end and we need to be set up to cope with reduced demand and support our members to get back on track. Other than that we are at the mercy of Government decisions and the stores following procedures.”

Meanwhile, in an update to members, Paul Esposito, the CEO of Independent Liquor Group (ILG) outlined what actions the group has taken to minimise health risks and ensure continued supply.

“We have taken extra precautions with cleaning and hygiene in all sites across the country. We are constantly monitoring the safety of our people, and have implemented social distancing measures such as reducing people visiting our sites, employee flight bans for non-critical purposes, and we have postponed all ILG events.

“We are in an unpredictable environment, and we are confident that we have sufficient stock and processes in place to minimise disruptions.

“We will also be offering extended credit to ensure you have sufficient stock in the case of disruptions.

“These are challenging times for everyone, and I cannot see this being resolved in the near future. Please be assured we will try and to do as much as possible to bring some normality back into our lives.”

National Liquor News, TheShout, Australian Hotelier and Bars and Clubs will continue to work with the industry to bring you updates, news and advice regarding the impact of COVID-19 over the coming weeks and months.