Life after lockdown, Keith Christian, Director of BAGMA

As an industry, dealers have been able to remain open in a limited way while observing social distancing rules under government guidance rules.

The agricultural machinery sector is supporting farmers and food production and the outdoor power equipment and ground care dealers have been supporting their local community and providing a service to the public where they can do so safely. We are hearing that some dealers who initially closed their doors have started to re-open.

We must accept that going ‘back to normal’ is not an option. The way Covid-19 has disrupted our daily lives and businesses in all sectors, suggests that a ‘new normal’ is being established. Working from home will become the norm for many although it may present a more flexible working model with people dividing time between home and office.

Consumer confidence will be low for some time due to ongoing health concerns and the economic repercussions of the virus. Until there is medical treatment for the virus, any easing of restrictions will need to be done in phases to avoid the likelihood of a second wave of infections and deaths. A protracted period of uncertainty is likely to keep a return to consumer confidence in check.

Some thoughts to consider:

Exit plan: A clear exit strategy is needed with a return to a new normality. We should learn from steps being taken in Europe as countries there exit lockdown.

Financial stimulus: The Government needs to implement a financial stimulus to generate consumer confidence. VAT has been used in the past as such a stimulus and should be done again over the summer.

Furlough scheme extension: The scheme should be extended but at lower levels to avoid a ‘hard exit’ from lockdown and the temptation for businesses to make staff redundant or not open at all, judging it uneconomic to do so.

Working together: Dealers should consider a more joined up approach with each other with larger dealers helping smaller dealers where they can. Maybe less busy dealers helping the busier ones with service etc.

From a dealer perspective, the strength of an independent business has been the ability to change and meet consumer demand quickly. We can learn from the businesses that have successfully traded through this crisis (as essential businesses). Given the acceleration of some of the socio-economic changes we need to see:

Multi-channel sales: dealers could move more towards omni channel retailing. Some have been doing it well but many more now need to embrace technology and, ultimately, opportunity. We have seen some members do this well, using social media and internet marketplaces to promote their business. This will require investment in good technology, including effective point of sale (POS).

Customer first: Adopt a more customer-focused approach. Dealers have been offering deliveries, click-and-collect and improved community engagement. This crisis has enforced a stronger sense of community, presenting an opportunity for the independent dealer often at the heart of it.

Sustainable retail: This was a growing trend prior to the crisis, and it will be even stronger post-crisis. If anything, there will be a greater focus on environmental issues as we start to benefit from less pollution (due to less industrial activity, less traffic, etc), although single-use plastic has made a bit of a comeback! Dealer’s who introduce sustainable retailing into their business will differentiate themselves and appeal to a wider generation of consumers.

Focus on customer experience: As time goes by footfall will increase and interest in purchasing will return. Dealer’s (and their employees) must appreciate the need for giving an ‘experience’ to the consumer – engagement, knowledge, different products.

Be brave: Work together and take advantage of available support. There will be many new ideas introduced into the world of retailing – some will work and some won’t. Could dealers get together and organise joint open days or demo days and share the benefits? Be brave try something new.

Covid-19 has brought together communities and the industry. The independent dealer is the heart of our industry. Resilient, adaptable, creative and with an entrepreneurial flair that has always been a strong part of the industry. I urge you to make the most of this very unique position and the opportunities these attributes will bring.

Keith Christian, Director of BAGMA