Restarting British luxury, planning starts now

While the country awaits a second review by the government of the Coronavirus lockdown on 7th May, some businesses are taking tentative steps to reopen and with many more planning their reopening strategies as and when they are advised it is safe to do so. We share some themes and questions to consider as business looks to the future.

There are a huge number of questions that cannot be answered at this stage, but some broad themes are starting to emerge and may be a useful framework around which luxury brands can start building their own path to reopening and recovery.

Think about the ‘new normal’ 

It’s not going to be a return to business as usual
Companies may need to consider changes to working patterns, the development and implementation of social distancing measures to ensure the safety of both employees and customers and the possibility of using certain forms of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Be transparent with employees and customers
Where cautious reopening has happened and worked well, it’s been driven by employee engagement and trust between employer and employees, including relevant trade unions where appropriate. The businesses that are beginning a gradual reopening have put in place social distancing measures that are agreed and understood by their workforces and they have had in-depth conversations with employees before they return to work.

Demand Vs Supply dilemma
There’s no point in beginning extensive manufacturing if retail outlets aren’t able to open to customers or if social distancing measures mean it’s physically not possible to accommodate the footfall and sales in store that was seen in pre-pandemic conditions. Thinking in a very clear way about supply chain will be crucial.

Opening by workplace, not sector
As mentioned, there are myriad questions about easing lock down and reopening business, the answers to which will largely fall to the government when it is in a position to publish more detailed guidance. However, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has set up a way of thinking about reopening which is by workplace rather than by sector and outlined six different workplace groups: Outdoor work; Leisure and well-being ; Non-food retail; Office work; Factory and industry-based work and Distribution and logistics

The government is thinking about how to create the protocols and guidelines that will characterise safe working practices when businesses can reopen and this may include a phased return to work depending on how easily companies are able to comply with safety guidelines across their whole operation from office workers, retail employees and manufacturing employees.

There hasn’t so far been any guidance about phasing and timing, but there will need to be forewarning so that companies can ensure that they have time to comply with guidance. One of the challenges for those businesses or sectors that are last to reopen will be a lengthening of the financial pressures that are currently being experienced.

Walpole is, and will continue to articulate the need for forewarning and, where necessary a continuation of financial support for businesses within the luxury sector that are last to reopen to both the CBI and government directly.

Freedom within a framework
It remains to be seen how prescriptive the guidance around reopening will be. Judging by the guidance for business that has been issued around the lockdown, it seems likely that a freedom within a framework approach will be adopted.

It’s worth thinking now about the combination of different workplaces within your business and what the potential safety requirements may encompass e.g perspex screens, private transport to work, splitting teams to work on alternative day or weeks. Also, are there team for which it is easier to work from home and do you prioritise a return for those of whom it is less easy or impossible do their jobs at home?

The voice of business
One thing that is going to be absolutely crucial in getting the reopening right, is a clear dialogue between business and government. Bringing together businesses, trade bodies, trade unions and government, will find a better way of combating Coronavirus than siloed working.

The CBI is adopting the following principles as a framework around restarting the economy:

1. Common belief that there must be a health-first approach – physical health, fiscal health and economic health. If it’s not health-first, employees won’t feel comfortable coming back to work and consumers won’t feel happy spending.
2. Sequenced approached – the support mechanisms for return to work must be considered – schools, transport, the need for PPE and financial support packages for the last to return.
3. Unified approach – businesses, trade bodies, trade unions, government and the devolved nations working together.
4. Level of prescription – freedom within a framework so that businesses can adapt and interpret a safe and sustainable return to work pathway depending on their circumstances.
5. Building back better – there is an opportunity as we think about the future, to have a vision of the economy we want to build. How do we deal with sustainability, fairness, and inter-generational impact?

As always, Walpole is keen to hear from members on the issues raised above, particularly whether the workplace approach works for your business, what sort of guidance does your business need from government to reopen and any thoughts on the importance of schools and public transport as enabler of employment?

Please contact Charlotte Keesing and Carly von Speyr.