Liverpool businesses can come back stronger after shutdown – and here’s how
3 years ago
One of the leading voices in the Liverpool business community says companies in the city can come back even stronger after the coronavirus shutdown.
Frank McKenna believes businesses in all sectors can use the time to develop and improve what they offer to customers so they’ll be better placed once the restrictions are lifted.
Frank, who’s chief executive of Downtown in Business, says there are things everyone can do to help with a positive bounce-back.
“We’ve built our city’s success on the visitor economy over the last decade and I think the hospitality industry has been the hardest hit by this for so many reasons, not least the government’s initial announcement,” he says. “But we’ve seen so many of them reacting positively and adapting which is exactly what we recommend to all businesses.”
Frank says the initial reaction to the restrictions was mixed in Liverpool – some companies were well-prepared and could switch their teams to working from home, and increase their online presence, while others struggled.
“A lot of businesses, like ours, had seen the writing on the wall so were ready and able to adapt fairly quickly and accept the challenge head-on.
“Equally there were some which I think buried their heads in the sand and were just keeping everything crossed that the shutdown wasn’t going to happen. When the day came, they found it hardest.
“Companies who’ve kept their online presence up to date will definitely come out of this far better off than many companies who’ve maintained a traditional approach to business.”
Planning is key to coming back strongly from the shutdown, says Frank.
“We know that, hopefully, within the next three months we’re going to come out of this so what businesses need to be doing is making sure they don’t get caught out again, and they need to be preparing to come out of this with lessons learned and potentially new products or services that they can offer to their customers.
“Out of adversity often comes opportunity, so even businesses which can’t operate now can use the fact that people have got a lot of spare time at the moment to build connections and a network.
“People are looking to talk now, so relationships can develop which in three months, or six months or 12 months, will deliver some business either directly or indirectly.”
Frank says staying in touch with customers, existing or new, is also important to maintain and build a business profile.
“Online and social media is very noisy at the moment, but it’s still really useful,” he adds. “I think service industries who have thought about how they can engage with their customers are making good use of the time.
“For instance, I’ve seen barbers giving online and social media tutorials on trimming beards and hairdressers advising people on the colours to use on their hair which won’t damage it. As a business you’ve got to be thinking about who you’re selling to in June or July and stay busy connecting with them.”
For many of Liverpool’s bars, restaurants and cafes that’s meant offering a delivery service, social media tutorials or getting involved in community support for those in need.
“A lot of those guys have come together and they’re providing some genuinely important and essential community services, and they’ll hopefully be remembered for that when business starts to return,” says Frank.
He recommends hospitality businesses bear in mind that social distancing restrictions may continue even after the lockdown ends.
“When they’re thinking about their financial projections, they need to take into consideration that they may have to cut capacity by 50%, so a restaurant could have to take out half of its tables to limit numbers. Businesses need to be looking ahead at what that’s going to mean for them financially.
“Hospitality businesses, in my opinion, have every right to push for an extension in financial support because there are likely to still be some restrictions which hit the sector hard.
“But all businesses need to be assessing their finances right now and looking at ways to best manage them. Look at your overheads, your rent, your business rates and your utilities, get in touch and ask for a holiday or defer payment. Cash flow is key at the moment. You can also go to your bank and get a coronavirus business interruption loan to tide you over and help get you through if you’re not getting your usual income.
“And if you possibly can, don’t cut off your small suppliers, keep paying, because that will help the economy hold up when we do all get back to normal.”
One thing that Frank says he isn’t surprised by is the kindness being shown among businesses and communities across Liverpool.
“I think that’s what we expect of Liverpool because we tend to come together in that community-spirited way,” he says. “Everyone rallies round because that’s how we’re all going to get through this.
“And hopefully, when it’s all over, there’s going to be more appreciation in future for people who do own hairdressers and chip shops, who do the care work and the cleaning, binmen and bus drivers and postmen, and the people who serve us in the shops. For years those people have been disregarded as low skilled and low paid and so not valued particularly. Well they really are now.
“The rallying round has been great to see, but so has the recognition and raising of awareness of those vital services we’ve taken for granted for too long.”