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COVID-19 has shocked the retail and consumer world. For some, an entire season (or two) of merchandise has gone unsold in brick-and-mortar stores across the globe, unallocated in distribution centers, and even left half-produced in factories up the supply chain.
Customers have experienced their own disruption: day-to-day lives, school schedules, employment, finances, and health. For many, any concept of shopping has shifted from consumption to sustenance.
For leaders of retail businesses, the unease, unknowability, and pressure are just as fraught. Stores are shuttered, corporate personnel and sales associates have been furloughed or fired. Inventory is aging, capital is expended without the revenues to match, and day-to-day activities are being run remotely with varying degrees of success. In this state, retailers can’t expect to simply flip a switch and turn things back on.
Unlike 2008 where there were structural economic issues, this is a health crisis that has caused economic turmoil and is driving social change. Winners will recognize that even though they may have had healthy businesses prior, they need to re-emerge with new operating models.
Some leaders stare into screens, waiting for a starting gun to go off to tell them that it’s time to return to normal. Others are keeping an ear to the ground for new and different opportunities, and in the best of cases, looking for ways to help meet the unfamiliar, variable, and sometimes unpredictable needs of a country in crisis. The most successful are acting like wartime generals, focusing on what they can control, actively risk-adjusting plans, and creating strategic mechanisms for further adjustments.
One thing is certain: there will be a post-pandemic era, and preparation for this “New Abnormal” must start now.
Preserving cash and cutting expenses is not a plan
Now is not the time to stand still. “Reemergence” will not be uniform or consistent. It will be a fit of starts and stops. Leaders need to prepare for inconsistent state-by-state and county-by-county opening rules and regulations; and a customer base that will have a varying degree of consumption appetite.
SSA & Company has been actively assisting our clients work through their current sales and EBITDA forecasts, creating cash preservation strategies, tweaking inventory plans, and negotiating rent payments — successfully kicking the can down the road.
But now is the time to plan for “reemergence” and re-opening. It is time to prepare an actionable playbook for the uncertainty ahead. Not just in the C-Suite, but across the organization.
PREPARE FOR A LONG BATTLE FOR PREDICTABLE ECONOMIC AND CUSTOMER INDICATORS
Reemergence will come along with a struggle to understand the economy, new competitors, and consumer indicators. Executives will need to address these unfolding developments in stages, and adjust operating models and expectations, as a period of continued constraints and barriers to economic operation and normal daily life is accompanied by uncertainty and heightened safety concerns.
Reemergence will surely come with bumps in the road, and impasses and inconsistencies across regions and geographies. It will take some doing for consumer confidence to rebound, given the current restraint being exercised is in part due to loss of discretionary consumer income.
Through this time, retail leaders will need to keep their eye on returning their supply chain to new, post-disruption efficiencies; rehiring and retraining employee teams, revaluing inventory, rethinking their real estate footprint, and… regaining their existing customers. It’s going to be an uphill climb to reach a post-virus world and a return to daily routines and reinvestment in innovation.
EXECUTIVE FOCUS – LEADERSHIP AGILITY
SSA & Company is helping the C-Suite focus energy and attention:
QUESTIONS TO ADDRESS IN YOUR PLAYBOOK
Key questions need to be answered across the organization:
SSA & COMPANY CAN HELP
SSA & Company is helping retailers re-invent, re-focus, and re-energize their businesses.
We are working with our clients to write their playbook:
The companies who will succeed are those who’re acting like wartime leaders, focusing on what they can control, and building operating models with agility and flexibility. These leaders are already working on what they need to do to improve their outcomes, and with it, recapture and even steal market share.
Matt Katz is a Managing Partner and heads the Retail & Consumer Packaged Goods and Private Equity practices at SSA & Company
Chris Ventry serves as a Vice President in the Retail & Consumer Packaged Goods practice at SSA & Company
Andrew Solar serves as a Director and is a member of the firm’s Private Equity team