The biggest small business challenge for generations

We are finding ourselves in unprecedented times, who would have thought that when we celebrated the New Year just three short months ago that the world by early spring would have completely shut down and our way of life that we have all taken for granted for generations, has been turned on its head for the foreseeable future due to the pandemic Covid -19.

Here at The IPG we are very much open for business, with all staff working from home under the current government restrictions, in order to support the NHS, our social care systems and be part of the national fight against Covid -19. Regular telephone and video calls are ensuring we are keeping in touch with one another as much as we can, making sure that the work still gets done effectively, keeping staff regularly updated during this pandemic on company policy,   whilst also ensuring that all staff are well both in body and mind. We are all keeping calm and carrying on the good work that we started 7 years ago.

The IPG, a membership group for the independent plumbing, heating and bathroom sector was founded in 2013, on the belief that independents should have a better voice in today's competitive market. This has never been so relevant. As the situation changes rapidly, so too must our members quickly adapt to the new business environment that they are operating in. This will be the biggest small business challenge of a generation. Being a member of The IPG has never been so valuable, as the group will be supporting members throughout this period; updating them on the latest IPG supplier status, engaging with their audience through various marketing channels such as social media and PR and advising whether they are open for business, they have any restrictions in place or they remain temporarily closed. We are putting steps in place to help our members and suppliers to prepare for normality in this down time, to ensure everyone has the best chance of recovery when eventually normality returns.

Business as usual for Gills

It’s refreshing for us all to hear some positive news, one of our IPG members has carried on regardless and completed the revamp of their store before complete lockdown. As a valued member of The IPG, Gill's Bathrooms and Kitchens in Welwyn Garden City have rebranded their store inside and out with new store signs clearly identifying them as a group member, and it is looking great in the spring sunshine.

 In normal times, there may be more of a celebration and promotion, inviting customers to see the new look store, however, this will have to wait until later in the year given the current health crisis.  Gills Bathrooms and Kitchens was established in 1962, by the current owner’s grandfather. Over the years, Gill’s has grown and developed its plumbing expertise in response to customer demand and now offers the supply and installation of bathrooms, bedrooms, kitchens and property maintenance to run alongside its plumbing supplies and spare parts trade counter.

This is not the first time that this long established independent business has experienced a challenging operating environment within the industry, there have been economic downturns over the years, which had required them to be more frugal and buckle down and work harder, but they have weathered the storm, and they are certain that this time will be no different.

Every day they are adapting to new customer requirements, installers are still out and about supporting their customers with emergencies, so it is important that the trade counters remain open and continue supporting the community. Skeleton staff are operating the trade counter and the showroom is closed. Only one person is allowed at the trade counter at any one time, with a notice on the door advising this. Staff on the trade counter have gloves and hand sanitizer following government advice. For their account customers, they are offering a pick and pack service which they will leave outside of the customer's home and are only accepting cashless payments. In Gill’s local area, households require water softener and salt, and currently, Gills are delivering to the doorsteps of customers who are self-isolating and are vulnerable. Demonstrating the importance of our independent merchants all over the country. Somewhere, not far from you is a similar independent, who needs your support now and, in the future, more than ever.

Whilst many of our IPG member stores continue to remain open for business, footfall has understandably dropped, and several installations have been postponed for the protection of public health. As this national emergency unfolds our members will continue to face challenges and may have to temporarily close due to staff shortages or government instruction over the coming weeks.

Covid -19 is an unexpected challenge for every single business in 2020, and whilst some of the Government initiatives put in place by the treasury will undoubtedly help the independent merchants, it may not help their immediate cash flow, as they wait for the process of receiving the assistance, to be put in place. It has never been so important to support your independent merchant who is in the heart of your community and many of them have been part of it for decades.