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Financial steps retailers can take now to survive the COVID-19 pandemic

Published March 17, 2020

Several weeks ago the industry was mainly concerned with supply chain interruptions and I wrote an article that spoke to that issue, and towards the end I posited that a potentially darker cloud than supply chain shortages may be looming. That cloud seems to now be here, and it is the widespread societal issues we will be facing as we tackle this enemy called COVID-19 head on.

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The bicycle industry has the potential to look dramatically different on the other side of this pandemic. Retailers who are on shaky ground will have a very hard time weathering the storm. Suppliers who may also be under capitalized, or working with too many retailers that are not stable, may see a tremendous amount of accounts go unpaid.

Government assistance as of this writing looks like it may be of relief to those who just need some breathing room to get through this, but those who are already on their heels may not be so lucky. I hate to sound alarmist but we may see a reshuffling of the deck when this is over for many in the industry. 

In our current world and in our current situation nothing feels certain. If you are a retailer you are having concerns about whether you will be able to pay your rent or mortgage. Whether you should be closed by choice, or forced due to quarantine measures or lack of employees. Even if you stay open revenues may drop precipitously.

What can you do? 

First, stay on top of what your upcoming commitments are and reach out to your suppliers, bank(s) and mortgage holder/landlords today. Do not bury your head in the sand! Call everybody on the above list and take their temperature on what you can expect from them in terms of leniency should you not be able to make those payments. Determine who is the most amicable to missing payment dates.

Unemployment concerns should be discussed with employees and as of this writing we should hopefully see some help for employees displaced.

What becomes available for retailers in terms of assistance will also be important. Make sure you understand all of your options for relief, and of ways to secure extra capital should you need it.

Try to avoid getting into, or further into, debt. Attempt to protect your personal assets. Liquidate things that may not be critical. Could you sell a vehicle? Drive that fancy shop fan over to the dealer and sell it back to them if you need to. Find ways to stay as liquid as possible.

The time is now to decide if there is no way forward as well. Make well reasoned decisions and BREATHE. Try to delay decisions that cannot be made without a clear mind. Take another day or week if you can before making decisions that will be hard to reverse if the economy comes back to life quickly. Look to China as they are beginning to emerge from the crisis and are ramping back up. It was surely difficult for them but there is light.

We are just entering the tunnel — remember that. Brandee Lepak, the president of the National Bicycle Dealers Association, sent this letter yesterday to members. It outlines multiple important things which you can do to shore up your business and prepare. 

There will also be implications for your business from a reputation standpoint. How you handle this crisis is critical. Do you close to protect your community from further transmission, or stay open feeling you are “essential service” to those who use bicycles as transportation, or even from a sense of duty to your employees?

I have written an article for the NBDA’s Outspokin' newsletter discussing this. I also covered the possibilities of keeping your business open under the guise of being considered “essential” to transportation during an order to shut down. There are many things to consider and everyone's situation is unique in some ways.

It is very important to maintain some positivity in this time. Remember that not everyone will be infected and you do have some control over your own health. Estimates are that 80% are recovering well. Use the data available to realize that things are not completely bleak should you find yourself heading into a negative train of thought. Take care of yourselves and those around you. Call a competitor or contact from a dealer meeting you've been meaning to reach out to. You are not alone. Do not let your thoughts get away from you. Your business or the bike shop you work at is not the only business that is suffering. When this is over I believe there will be a surge in demand and a very relieved world and nation. Good luck and take of yourself and those around you. 

David DeKeyser and his wife Rebecca Cleveland owned and operated The Bike Hub in De Pere, Wisconsin, for nearly 18 years. Recently they sold the business and real estate to a nearby retailer and relocated to Colorado. He can be reached at Bikezest@gmail.com.

Topics associated with this article: Coronavirus

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