Local businesses are innovating in a challenging environment

Sarah Luke

WHILE people have always been encouraged to shop locally, it seems extremely poignant during these uncertain times.

And the message is getting through, too – Sale Business and Tourism Association has reported its highest engagement ever through its online platforms, as people search for businesses they can support through COVID-19.

Speaking on behalf of the SBTA board, association executive officer Naomi Cranston told the Gippsland Times people were grasping the effect of the pandemic globally and locally, and wanted to support others as best they could.

“Our local businesses have shown great innovation in adapting to the restrictions, and we hope that people see the benefit in supporting these efforts,” she said.

“Also, with our travel restricted and people encouraged to stay home, people have had to look closer to home for the things they need.

“We hope this will be an ongoing trend well after the restrictions are lifted.”

Ms Cranston said there was still some confusion about which businesses were forced to close and which are still able to remain open.

“The public has been asked to stay at home, so it is important for local business to get the message out about what services and goods are available and how the public can access them,” she said.

“Those who have the ability to continue trading will help get our local economy through this difficult time, and we need to support them as much as possible.”

Ms Cranston said it was always vitally important that the community supported local small businesses.

“Our local businesses are the backbone of our community, supporting local schools, sporting clubs, organisations and employing local people,” she said.

“Our local grocers, butchers, bakeries, cafés and restaurants also support local suppliers.

“It is especially poignant now as many local businesses have had to greatly restrict and adapt their regular way of trading.

“The ongoing effect of this could mean that local people may lose jobs, businesses may close and the local economy and community suffer well into the future.

“People can support businesses that are not able to operate by purchasing a gift voucher for when the business can open for themselves to use, or as a gift for family, friends or for their staff (Christmas present, bonus, reward or incentive).

“People can also support their local businesses by following their social media with likes and supportive comments and help spread the word for those businesses.”

Ms Cranston said some local businesses had done an “amazing job” at adapting in the face of a completely unimaginable situation.

“Many of our retailers have moved to promoting product sales via online stores and social media, our cafés and restaurants have had to close their eat-in services but many now offer takeaway meals and delivery service,” she said.

“Businesses have also adapted by offering telephone and video conferencing options (for professional services).

“Many businesses are offering free information [like the video from Khayaam on social media] to stay in contact with their customers and clients – adding value for their clients at no cost to the clients.

“Grocers, delis, bakeries, butchers and cafés have increased their supply to keep up with demand and even offer an increased range of products to the community that have been hard to find in bigger stores.

“Centre Bakery offers basic supply grocery packs, Lazzaro Brothers are offering a phone order and delivery service, Redd Catt is doing takeaway coffees – many retailers provide an online or phone ordering option with a delivery or cashless collection service.”

SBTA president Leanne Pearce added many business owners forced to close were struggling with the emotional side of having to close their businesses, which they had spent years – even decades – building, and having to let staff go.

“Being a business owner is more than what the public sees,” she said.

“The amount of extra workload and time that is taken up trying to reinvent the business and understand all the information coming through from the government and other agencies is huge.

“For businesses that remain open, staff safety, community safety and personal health is a constant worry.

“Their own and their staff’s mental health is a concern.”

Ms Cranston assured local businesses that Sale Business and Tourism Association was offering as much support as it could.

“As always we have been a conduit for relevant information to our members from business organisations and governing bodies,” she said.

“We have increased our promotion of our businesses on our Shop in Sale Facebook page and Support Local Wellington Instagram to help spread the news that many of our businesses are still open and the services they are able to offer.

“We have also been working with Signtorque to help them with their very generous offer to provide stickers for our local businesses to help promote how they are trading.”

Ms Cranston said she hoped when life returned to “normal”, people would remember local business people made major sacrifices to be able to provide the goods and services to the community in tremendously difficult circumstances.

“We would love the ‘support local’ to continue and grow through and after this pandemic and for our community to please support local as much as they possibly can,” she said.