Schoolwear Association survey reveals social distancing causes concern

A Schoolwear Association survey of the schoolwear industry’s response to COVID-19 has revealed that more than 80% of businesses are already looking ahead to the impact social distancing will have on their operations.

The Schoolwear Association survey, which explored the current status of businesses including retailers, suppliers and wholesalers, showed a range of opinions on how the industry can operate when lockdown restrictions are lifted.

With the majority looking ahead to reopening under social distancing rules, responses on the impact this will have were extensive. Many responses focused on the difficulties of serving customers in the same numbers and at the same speed as prior to COVID-19.

For example, one respondent noted that ‘It will take a lot longer to serve customers’, and another pointed out that ‘It will severely limit the number of people that we can accommodate in our shop and will therefore limit our potential income’.

For smaller stores this may be more of a challenge, ‘As a small shop we will find it very hard to do social distancing we might have to do appointments only’. Some are already warning about the difficulties in managing last minute back to school shoppers, ‘how we will handle the big surge at the end of August while social distancing is a big concern’, and many retailers will be planning on communicating with schools and customers to encourage earlier or online purchases’.

With the majority (65%) of businesses closed and just 5% completely open, most respondents predicted a very large decrease in sales between April and June 2020 compared to the same period last year – 57% expected to see a drop of more than 20%.

Looking ahead to the summer and back to school period, although responses were mixed, many are optimistic that demand will still be there. Around 52% of those surveyed said they expected sales to be the same or increase between July and September compared to the same period last year. Just 10% predicated a drop in sales of more than 20%.

Expectations for next year were also cautiously optimistic. 65% of respondents said that they expected sales to be the same or increase compared to the previous year, with the majority (27%) predicting a small rise in sales of 10% or less.

It is encouraging to see businesses making the most of Government support to help them through these challenging times. The vast majority of respondents have furloughed staff (85% have furloughed at least three-quarters of their workforce), have or are planning to use Small Business Grants (80%), and have or are planning to use the business rates relief scheme (69%).

The support of schools is also important to getting through this crisis. 74% of those who responded said that they were in contact with their schools, and nearly a quarter are having frequent conversations through the lockdown period. Again, almost all respondents expected schools to be either quite (45%) or very (45%) supportive of their business.

As the recent message from the SA’s co-chairs, Matthew Easter and Mark Stevenson, explained, trusting in longstanding business relationships and pulling together as an industry is vital to weathering this challenging period.

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