Many of 2020’s innovations, we’re told, revolve around online answers. So what happens to businesses that are firmly bricks and mortar? We ask James Timpson.
2020 and the lockdowns have been tough for us because we’re a retailer that doesn’t have an online business. You can’t do our things online. So it’s been very, very difficult. We’ve had to make people redundant. We’ve lost a lot of money. There’s been nothing good, I’m afraid.
I do think the government has been pretty good, especially with business rates. But you also have to remember that the government has forced us to close the business, and they forced our customers not to come to our shops in the high streets. So that’s quite the quid pro quo. It’s not as simple as… that they need to support it. They’re the insurer of last resort, at the end of the day.
It’s going to have long-term implications for every business. Some have had a very good Covid; others have had a very bad Covid. But a lot depends on what happens through now and April. A lot of companies are just on the edge, and I think if it carries on or gets worse, they’re going to be put under.
I could see quite a few high street business going. There’s going to be a point, I guess, when the government can’t afford any more support. I think that, long-term, people will still want to go to places that offer them a good service and a nice environment for the things that they need. I like to think that, when it’s all over, people are going to be desperate for human contact, and to be in buzzy places, and to go to the theatre, and to the races or whatever. I think long-term, for some people, it’ll be okay.
It’s so ingrained in our culture that it’s just not even questioned that we look out for our people in times like this. That’s what you do. So if your business culture is about looking out for its people, you look after your people when the times are good – and when they’re not so good.
To run the business long-term, you’ve got to have the resilience and the financial setup to be able to do it. And we have. So we’re relatively relaxed long-term, although it’s so difficult at the moment because you can’t do what you want to do. We can’t do training sessions. We can’t do leadership development. It’s just harder to develop colleagues and develop the business when you’re in a state of semi-hibernation. It’s difficult.
A silver lining is that I think there’s the sense of community; the sense of neighbourhood, the sense of kindness, the sense of valuing our public services. And also, it’s making us question. In some ways, we’ve taken for granted the health of the nation. Now we’ve remembered to look at what we need to do to become a healthier country.
James Timpson OBE has been chief executive of Timpsons since 2002, helping to grow the business to more than 2100 shops.
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