28 Apr 2020

Businesses ready for level 3, some urged to seek financial advice

7:10 am on 28 April 2020

It's business, but not as usual. Alert level 3 begins today, which gives businesses more room to breathe - provided they comply with strict health and safety measures.

Delivery man in protective mask and gloves, employee hold takeaway cup of coffee. Service quarantine pandemic coronavirus virus Covid-19.

Photo: 123rf

Goods must be selected and bought online or over the phone, and delivered or picked up without contact, and only if the business can do so safely.

In Lower Hutt, Compass Coffee owner Michael Meads said he had spent the four weeks at level 4 preparing for reopening.

He sent out a survey on social media asking customers what products they wanted, what time of day they would come and how they would prefer to pay and collect.

"I've built this really stylish perspex barrier so there will be no face-to-face [communication], similar to what supermarkets have.

"All our staff have had online training about what's going to happen so they're going to come in and they're going to be able to put it into practice."

He was hopeful his homework and preparation paid off.

Other businesses have had to think even further outside the box.

In Palmerston North, Let's Face It Hair and Beauty co-owner Claire Barry said their core business would not be able to get going under level 3, so they had to get creative.

"We're offering virtual skin consultation via Zoom, so being able to help people deal with their stress, deal with their skin and look after themselves while in lockdown is really important.

"It's not something we've ever offered before, but we've had a lot of interest."

Real estate agents can come into the office and arrange home visits and private viewings, tradespeople can pick up their tools, forestry has the green light as well as businesses supporting the primary sector.

Stay nimble, maintain cash flow

Business software firm MYOB New Zealand manager Ingrid Cronin-Knight said there was likely to be a swell of demand for products in the first few days but businesses should not get carried away.

"You don't want to get stuck with a whole heap of stock that you can't turn. I would look at the product set that you offer and see what is really core, what are the ones that we always sell and have a good stock turnover of.

"I would temper the mass ordering off the rush that might come through in the first couple of weeks off the back of lockdown."

She said keeping things simple, remaining nimble and looking for ways to keep the cash coming in, which could include shorter payment terms for suppliers, or a flash sale, should be the priority.

Cronin-Knight said it was crucial businesses could trade their way through level 3, and said a business loan or overdraft to free up cash could be helpful, as would seeking proper business advice.

"Talking to an adviser is really crucial. If you go to your accountant today, and you find out just about tax and what you can do with tax - find another one - this is a really critical time for you to get help and support.

"Because if you can't trade your way out of it, and you end up in insolvency, which then links to personal bankruptcy, there's a lot at risk for you and your family. There definitely is an expense that comes with [an adviser] but if it saves the family home and it allows you to trade out then I think that's a really worthwhile thing to do."

However, despite flickers of movement for some, there would still be many businesses inactive at level 3.

In Wellington, Hurricane Denim and Fusion skate and surfwear stores owner David Byrne said there was no way online sales would cover the cost of setting up an e-commerce platform for his businesses.

"For us, to do a proper job we have to have models modelling the clothes, it's a lot of expensive photography ... for clothing, the customer requires a lot more information."

He said retailers like himself could be offering their products in the same way dairies currently operate - one in, one out - and a similar way to how they will have to trade under level 2.

"Level 2 and level 3 could have been the same thing and we could have got some trading going.

"But even if we were trading at half we would still not be anywhere near meeting our obligations to both staff and our suppliers and our landlords."

Alert level 3 remains in place for two weeks and will be reviewed by Cabinet before 11 May.

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