What I’d do if I owned a clothing store in the Corona Recession
So, you own a clothing store. A month ago, business was doing great. Now your doors are closed. But you still have rent to pay. Maybe you’ve had to furlough employees. You’re not sure how long you can last without incoming revenue.
Let’s be honest, it’s a reeeally fucked up situation for any business to be in. A terrible concoction of uncertainty, closed doors, broken supply chains and distribution systems that will reverberate through the economy long after self-isolation has come and gone.
Acknowledging that is important. Acknowledging how challenging the times ahead will be is important.
But dwelling on it and wishing for a different reality is the worst possible thing you could do.
We’re here. It’s happening. What now?
We need a game plan to get us out of shit creek.
Here’s that game plan, in ten steps. Tackle them in the order they are prescribed for maximum effectiveness.
The Fuck Corona, My Business Will Survive Game Plan
1) Get ready to adapt.
Back in the day, I went door to door asking offline businesses if they wanted a hand building an online presence. Most said, ‘no thanks, my business is doing just fine.’ This left me entirely incredulous. How could they not see where the world was moving to?
Like the guy who keeps selling records when the world’s moved to CD and then MP3 Players (iPods etc.) and then streaming (Spotify), the businesses that refuse to go online will be caught with their pants down when the tide goes out – and one thing I can promise is that the tide ALWAYS goes out.
So be willing to adapt.
As Bruce Lee once said: ‘Be formless, shapeless. Like water. You put water into a cup, it becomes the cup, you put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle…now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.’
Now I know this is more philosophical than practical, but our minds define our environments.
In times of economic decline, adaptability and resourcefulness are THE most important traits a business owner can have.
Be willing to throw out commonly held beliefs and practices.
None of this: ‘Oh, I’ve been doing it this way for years and it’s always worked for me!’
Question everything you do. Ask yourself ‘is there a better way?’ ‘How can I find stratospheric success in this time?’ ‘What do people really need/value?’
Economic comfort breeds laziness and inefficiency. Economic discomfort breeds innovativeness and efficiency – but it also kills off every business that refuses to change.
Some examples of adaptation in these times:
– distilleries going from producing alcohol to producing hand sanitiser
– gyms renting out equipment and doing online fitness classes
– retailers pivoting from formal wear to selling dressing gowns, slippers, activewear, cushions, yoga wear etc, etc.
How can you pivot your clothing store?
2) Create an ecommerce store.
The year 2000 was a good year to get a little brochure website online.
The year 2015 was a good year to get a simple ecommerce website to help diversify your business’s risk whilst dramatically increasing your potential audience size.
It’s 2020 now – you’re very late to the ecom party. But the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time to plant a tree is today. Moral of the story: get an ecommerce store. Like seriously. Right now.
If you want, I’ll build it for you and you’ll be up and running by tomorrow. I don’t mind how you do it, please just do it.
If the Coronavirus has taught us anything, it’s that physical stores are vulnerable – to changing times, to pandemics, to natural disasters, to massive inflation of overheads…
And right now, it’s pretty much the only way retailers can sell.
You need to make money if you are to stay afloat. Don’t just rely on the government to bail you out. Sure, let them help you, but be proactive in depression proofing your business.
Don’t survive. Thrive.
If you want a hand building your ecommerce website by tomorrow, get in touch.
3) Sell everything you don’t absolutely need.
You’ve heard that cash is king and it’s times like these that cement this aphorism.
You need liquid cash. Not tied up in stocks and bonds, not tied up in jewellery or electronics or clothes at home.
Most of us have thousands of pounds locked up in stuff we don’t need. Don’t wait until everyone stops spending to try and sell this stuff. Sell it right now. Like immediately after you set up your ecommerce. No joke.
If you don’t make yourself humble, this depression will do it for you.
Be ruthless. Do you need that TV? Do you need that second laptop? And the microphone under the bed? That Gucci outfit doing you much good in self isolation? How about that ring or that necklace? Do you need all of those trainers? And that guitar?
Now, I’m not asking you to sell things that really mean something to you.
I’m selling absolutely everything I own that I don’t need – barring my guitar. I will take that to the grave. It gives me true happiness. It gives happiness to those around me.
But I’m going to sell a camera that I reeeally would like to keep. It’s massively painful for me, but I can’t justify keeping it. Sure, it takes better pictures and videos than my phone – but most people won’t notice that difference.
4) Get rid of all extraneous outgoings.
You’re probably wondering when I’m going to show you some marketing tactics to make your retail business depression proof.
We’ll get there. But, like I said, we need cash – and as much of it as we can possibly get. It’s how we’ll weather the storm.
So, get rid of Netflix, get rid of your cable subscription, your gym membership, the organic food delivery, the takeaways, the Amazon orders, Spotify – it’s all got to go.
For the stuff you can’t do without, find cheaper versions. Switch phone providers. Get the cheapest electricity supplier.
One thing many businesses overlook is how much you can cut your taxes now that you’re working from home – electricity, gas, internet, rent – these things can all be subsidised now.
I cut my monthly expenses by more than £400. This is massive. And my outgoings were always minimal. If you’re a big spender, cutting costs like this will dramatically improve your situation. That’s extra cash you can use to go on the offensive – which brings me on nicely to the next point.
5) Go on the offensive.
Ok, so the last 2 points were defensive strategies. But we won’t win this battle with defence alone. Plus, defence is as unsexy as hell. On to the fun stuff!
We’ve got the liquid cash to keep our business afloat as long as possible.
Now we need strategies that will make us more money. None of them are traditionally what a brick and mortar retailer would do. Let go of that label for now.
Stop asking ‘how can I make money with my retail business?’ Start asking, ‘how can I start making money?’
What do you have that people value? It might be a skill; it might be products (like your store’s clothes).
6) Switch to selling everyman items & bundle deals.
People will always need clothes. You’re lucky enough to be in one of the few industries that is evergreen.
Most people will stop buying designer clothes if they haven’t already. But they’ll continue to buy the basics. If you can source and sell these with a good margin, you’ll continue to be profitable – even when times get really rough.
Bundle together items allows you to increase margin a little bit. It’s good old upselling at its best – more revenue for you, more value for customers.
In the Great Depression businesses that stayed afloat sold everything in bundles. Cinemas started selling tickets two tickets for the price of one and cut costs by relying on B-movies (which were much cheaper to purchase and much quicker to move to market). But they didn’t stop there. Many cinemas had promotional nights, like ‘Dish Night’ in which every woman that attended a screening got a free dinner plate. Please, please make your clothing store offerings more progressive! 😛
7) Got a car? Drive it.
Thanks to the disruption to supply chains and distribution networks, everyone is finding it hard to get the goods they need in a timely manner.
But if you have a car, you can go and deliver clothes to patrons yourself. Or if you still have employees, you can use them. Or get help from your family.
By doing this, you can be the point of call for deliveries in your city or town for quick deliveries.
Maybe your city is no longer allowing no essential journeys thanks to Corona. Then this won’t work for now. But be ready for when these restrictions are lifted.
8) Got a network? Use it.
I can hear the ‘but I don’t have a network’ protestations but I don’t buy them. You have contacts on your phone. You have a Facebook network or a LinkedIn network or an Instagram network.
Contact friends and family, get on local forums. Ask people who needs basic clothes delivered to them in 24 hours. Give out deals and bundles to make these offerings more appealing – but shit hasn’t really hit the fan yet so just asking ‘who needs some clothes?’ is probably enough.
Paid advertising is great. And the very best businesses continue to pay for advertising even through the lowest lows. The term ‘soap opera’ comes from soap companies in the great depression using stories on radio and tv to sell their soap. Eventually these little segments became fully-fledged shows and every kind of company you can imagine was buying up these advertising spaces. It was that innovation that lead to the modern tv ad format.
However, if you don’t have a huge amount of cash, investing in paid advertising becomes extremely risky.
So, what’s the alternative?
It’s free and it is still massively effective.
But, because it’s free, it’s extremely competitive. So, like with every other aspect of your business, you’re going to need to stand out, providing value others aren’t.
People become risk averse in downturns and they tighten their wallets. But they still want to buy things. Before they’d buy your stuff and stuff from the guy down the road. Now it’s either you or them. This is why building a brand is an essential piece of the puzzle.
Forget about SEO (search engine optimisation). People think it matters more than it does. Content is more and more the driver of search rankings.
And don’t write one or two articles. You’ll need to produce a massive amount of content for this to actually work. Get your friends and family to help too.
You don’t know how few clothing stores do this. Be one of the few that do and you’ll really stand out.
Be aware that it will take time to build up an online presence. Stick with it and you’ll be rewarded.
We don’t need to be clueless in this situation. Viruses have happened before. From the Antonine Plague that killed Marcus Aurelius to the Spanish Flu, viruses have come and gone, killing many people and absolutely ravaging economies.
In what ways did people think and act then that in retrospect were wise or heroic? If we take these lessons, we can imbue our journey with the wisdom of heroes gone by.
Equally, this is not the first depression humans have ever seen. There is a great deal of material on The Great Depression, for instance, that can teach us much about how to successfully run a business through the hard times. And just as importantly we can look back and see precisely what didn’t work.
If we read veraciously on these topics, we will find answers to our many questions.
There are times in our lives that are pivotal. Our actions – or inactions – in these moments are truly defining; reverberating throughout the rest of our existence. This is one such time.
Who are you going to decide to be?