Napoleon famously dismissed the English as “a nation of shopkeepers”. It’s a criticism that holds more than a grain of truth… but in the last three months, any non-essential shopkeepers were shut down as part of UK-wide COVID-19 lockdown plans. Those lockdown requirements were loosened on Monday 15 June. We spoke to some of that shopkeeper nation in the audio sector to see what happened next.
It’s worth bearing in mind that although the UK’s lockdown has begun to lift, restrictions are still fairly rigid. Non-essential retailers in Scotland and Wales are still closed. Currently people are advised to keep 2m apart, handwashing and/or cleaning stations are to be provided, some facilities (like public toilets) are restricted or limited and there are strict limits on how many shoppers are able to enter a store. These have resulted in images of huge queues with shoppers waiting hours in line to enter a store. While it’s hoped these restrictions will reduce over time, they are also dependent on the reproduction rate (the ‘R0’) of the disease… fewer people with the disease, we get closer to how things were in 2019; too many people getting infected and the lockdowns come back.
But for now, at least, the stores are reopening, and a few days in, here’s what many have to say about throwing their doors open again. OK, so the two-hour snaking line to pick up a pair of underpants from Primark are not commonplace in audio retail stores, but neither have stores opened to stony silence…
Brian Morris and Trevor Liddle from Brian and Trevors
Brian Morris: “We’re open. During lockdown our business hardly suffered, and we’re already filled up with appointments. But we’ve been appointment based since we started, so in a way the social distancing aspect for us is easy. However, other dealers are going to have to change to an appointment-based model to keep numbers manageable at least until COVID-19 goes away. Which is why we changed our mission statement recently to read ‘stay alert, make an appointment with us and play safe’!”
Trevor Liddle: “We didn’t technically close, but demonstrations dried up completely because people weren’t able to visit. However, we were able to collect and deliver. Now, we have sanitisers and masks available, but no one has taken up the offer of masks yet. We’re not offering tea and coffee at the moment, but that’s it. There have been a couple who said, ‘let’s wait’ at the start of the lockdown, but many are getting back in touch now. We don’t have a queue outside the door because we’d never work like that anyway.”
Alain Abensur, Choice Hi-Fi
“I may be bucking the trend, but I did the same turnover in the first six months of the year as I did for all of last year. I could barely keep up with sales. So… “lockdown, what lockdown?” The further we got into the lockdown period the more people upgraded their equipment, possibly as a little treat to themselves. Couriers didn’t stop and everything was by mail order, of course. A lot of people thought this might have a size or weight limit, but I don’t think size or weight had much to do with anything; invariably there was always a way around the issue.
“I have a number of landmark products that people have come to hear – like the Avalon PM3 – and since lockdown has eased, people are keener to make appointments. Paradoxically, whole the interest is still there, sales have slowed since the lockdowns eased… perhaps they are thinking more about returning to work and planning holidays. Or maybe they are taking a little longer to evaluate now.”