small businesses reopen

How can small businesses plan for reopening?

Whilst all the media focus is on the ‘high street brands’ these same issues also affect small businesses. We explore the steps owners of small shops and retail units should be taking now to prepare for what comes after the great reopening of retail.

Which small businesses will open when?

Lockdown started in the UK on 23 March and after 15 weeks of enforced lockdown and several weeks after other sectors of the economy have been gradually opened the last ‘non-essential’ shops will be able to open their doors from 15 June. We have therefore seen outdoor markets and car showrooms open in the last week, so you can now use your new car to pick up market fresh fruit and veg.

There have been rumours and briefings that pubs and restaurants will follow suit. It was initially suggested that this might be on 4 July, and reports came out that it could be earlier. With signs that the R rate is still stubbornly between 0.7 and 0.9, it seems that the earliest it is conceivable to open the doors of the hospitality sector will be 4 July. Our own ‘Independence Day’. Time also to get a haircut and watch the latest movie release could also be on the cards

Actions small business owners can take

From Monday 15 June, you will now be able to buy your clothes, toys, furniture and other ‘non-essentials’ in-store.

Great news we all cry, but, if you are that store owner, what does that mean? How exactly do you get your sales space ready to receive your staff and customers? The Government has produced a welter of on-line advice to help all sectors gear up to re-open, such as this.

Social distancing

A short stroll down the gradually opening parade of shops near me showed that the messages were getting through. Signs encouraging the keeping of a social distance are everywhere. At present the advice remains that 2m is required, but as a business owner I wouldn’t spend a lot of money on these signs as I suspect that guidance will change and a relaxation of measures will shortly require only distancing of 1m.

  • Get signage everywhere you can and reinforce the message
  • Have 2m distance markers to moderate flow
  • Could digital monitoring provide a cost effective way to regulate numbers in your store
  • Aldi is moving to a traffic light system of in and out, would this work in your space.
  • Try to eliminate pinch points
  • Consider if it is possible for colleagues to work singly
  • Use screen barriers if possible and cost effective
  • Create a flow if possible by moving customers one way around your store
  • Limit the number of customers in store at any one time and arrange suitable marked waiting outside store
  • Try to discourage lingering
  • Within cost constraints consider extending opening hours to spread customer flow


Hand sanitiser that was expensive to buy early in the pandemic is now a ubiquitous sight everywhere you go. Please read our FreeStep Ltd interview.

If you are a single unit operator, without ‘process change teams’ at your disposal, how can you plan your opening? With the ease and acceptance of buying online, a store needs now, more than ever, to prove their relevance at a time when it will be difficult to justify a reason to visit. As a shop front retailer you will need to work even harder to be creative and essential.

Carry out a basic risk assessment, concentrating on identifying how infection can get in, be left and spread. The potential carriers are your customers and your staff and so measures need to be brought in to stop and control infection. This will require the development of cleaning and hygiene procedures.

  • Encourage everyone in the space to follow safe hygiene practices
  • Provide hand sanitiser around the space and in cloak rooms if provided
  • Consider gloves and masks for staff, especially if engaged in handling any products or cash
  • Clean and disinfect objects and surfaces frequently
  • Pay special and regular attention to maintain foot fall areas
  • If toilets must be open, provide clear and obvious instructions and additional cleaning

Maintaining a positive customer experience is key for small business operators

Most trips will continue to be for what people essentially require, and I expect it to be some time before ‘browsing’ shopping returns. However the better and less forced you can make the customer experience, the greater your chance or quick repeat business. As before lockdown, customer satisfaction is a great selling point. People will talk to each other about ‘what a pleasure it was, even with all the measures in place’.

Small retail businesses reopening

Specific sectors throw up their own challenges, such as a clothing retail shop.

  • Can you do without a fitting room? They come with complications as to how they can be operated safely. Also consider how much effort and expense you will invest against any potential return.
  • Where fitting rooms are deemed essential, be prepared to clean them after each use!
  • Creating procedures to manage clothes that have been tried on, for example delaying their return to the shop floor by 72 hours
  • Returned or donated items will also need to be stored and possibly steamed prior to return to the outlet
  • Is it practical to have racks and racks of items which will be rummaged through constantly? Is it possible to have a specimen item with other sizes in stock?


A café or coffee shop has its own unique challenges. To stay COVID compliant you will need to undertake a variety of seemingly endless tasks

  • Frequently cleaning and clearing will be essential. In the pub trade it is a mantra that ‘if you have time to lean, you have time to clean’
  • Work areas, equipment, objects and surfaces that are touched regularly or handled constantly will require constant attention
  • On premises café seating areas must be closed and all hot and cold food purchased must be consumed off premises
  • As with all retail, move away from cash and onto card and contactless methods of payment

What might happen next?

There is a prediction by some analysts of a rush to the shops on 15 June, but many multi-unit operators are taking a cautious approach, with Next only opening 25 of its larger stores.

Others are planning a similar approach, and indeed some staples of the High Street will never open with the likes of Monsoon and Debenhams already having announced closures.

So it will be a bumpy ride and many will not make it. If you are expecting to open your doors from 15 June, maybe some of these ideas will help. Good luck. Please contact us if you would like to discuss any issues you are facing in more detail.


Steve Thatcher is a non-practising solicitor of 25 years’ experience He is an ex-publican and personal licence holder. He currently practices as a business rescue and insolvency professional with F A Simms & Partners.

Steve works directly with numerous businesses in the hospitality and retail sector and has first-hand experience of how COVID19 is affecting them.

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