The world has rapidly changed over the last 3 months, when we heard Big Ben chime and celebrated the arrival of 2020, who could have predicted not only a new year, but a new decade that by early spring would see the UK in lockdown, along with the rest of the world. Confined to our homes, we have been setting up home offices and schooling, and will be keeping our distance from work colleagues, friends and family for the foreseeable future. No small business could predict or plan for this unprecedented event, however, The IPG members are quickly adapting to this unusual environment and we’d like to share some of their stories with you.

Paton of Walton in Walton on Thames remains open for business 8.30–3.30 pm weekdays, 8.30–1.30 pm on Saturdays, whilst helping their local community. They are ensuring that local families are keeping their critical home facilities working. Paton’s have considerately adapted their services to deliver to their customer's doorstep if required. Recently, they helped a local family who were in isolation, they desperately needed a part for their heating system which had broken, meaning their house was cold and they had no hot water. Paton of Walton were able to get the emergency part and deliver to the family, following all Government guidelines. The company are also committed to keeping their staff safe during the pandemic, requesting that customers call first and then collect the goods from their doorstep at an agreed time.

WMI Simpsons Ltd, Barnet currently open from 6–5:30pm are the self-proclaimed 4th emergency service in their area. Their business is being reactive and remains busy, they are fortunate as one of their specialisms is heating and boiler spares, and it is essential that homes are heated along with water. Local emergency installers are still working hard to ensure that their customer's vital services are maintained, and they require parts.

As the events of the past couple of weeks unfolded, WMI Simpsons advised their staff, that they could go home if they wanted to. But all staff volunteered to stay and continue to work and support the business. The safety of their staff is WMI Simpsons' number one priority during this health emergency, so they devised a safe method of serving customers, described as a chain gang ensuring that all staff and customers are keeping to the 2-metre distance rule. A gazebo has been set up at the front of the store as a temporary trade counter, so no customer enters the store. There is a sanitising area where every customer is required to wash their hands before being served, and all staff are wearing gloves. Each member of staff is given a specific task,  someone picks from the warehouse, another member takes it to the temporary trade counter and then someone serves the customers. Every customer, including members of the public are being given trade prices. All payment transactions are made by card.  

Golita Supplies, Blackburn are currently keeping to their normal trading hours for emergencies but are reviewing daily. Business is slowing and they think that this is due to jobs finishing and work sites closing. They are analysing stock each day and engaging with their customers to try and understand why customers are coming to store. If business continues to slow, they will reduce their opening hours to 5–6 hours per day, and this information will be available on The IPG website. Like other IPG members, staff are wearing gloves and masks and they have an hourly cleaning rota to clean the trade counter, hand sanitizers are always available and social distancing rules have been implemented within the store.

Gill's Plumbing and Heating, Welwyn Garden City, are adapting to new customer requirements. Local Installers are still out and about supporting their customers with emergencies, so it is important that Gills trade counter remains open and continues to support their community, they have however closed the showroom. Skeleton staff are in place wearing protective gloves and only one person is allowed at the counter at any one time and they are also only accepting cashless payments.  For their account customers, they are offering a pick and pack service which they will leave outside of the customers home. Local households require water softener and salt, and currently, Gills are delivering to the doorsteps of those 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.

Please note at the time of issuing the press release, member opening times are correct although subject to change throughout COVID -19 pandemic.