Non-essential retailers in England re-opened to the public this week. In order to ensure they continued to serve their customers, there was one stipulation – that they abide by government guidance to keep them ‘Covid-19 secure.’

This means ensuring social distancing and regular hygiene procedures are carried out, not just for customers but staff too. Regular disinfecting of surfaces, hand washing, reduced customer flow, clear signage on distancing and direction – it’s all part of the ‘new normal’ for retailers.

Owner of All Seasons DIY – Surinder Josan

For Surinder Josan, and his family-run DIY store, that’s merely a continuation of what he’s been doing for the past couple of months anyway.

When the pandemic struck, Surinder initially closed his All Seasons DIY store – along with a second banqueting business he also runs. Both are in the small town of Smethwick in the West Midlands and well-known. In fact, Surinder is a second-generation DIY manager – his father having initially built up the DIY business. The banquet hall addition was his own initiative.

The popularity of both businesses means the family are well-known in the town – to the extent many customers contacted Surinder for hardware items privately, while his store was closed. He had initially closed to help protect his elderly mother who spent most of her days in the store. It was while he was carrying out a refit that he first began to receive the phone calls. The number of calls just kept getting bigger “It dawned on us that hardware stores were allowed to remain open, so we thought: ‘If we’re going to do this, we will have to do it properly,’” said Surinder. That decision meant putting an array of measures in place to keep both his customers and family safe.

This involved moving the indoor plants for sale to the back garden to avoid customer crowding. Social distancing lines have also been issued for queuing while the till area has been ‘barricaded,’ and customers served individually, one at a time.

Customers have also been encouraged to use contactless payment by reducing the minimum amount from £5 to £1, while any notes issued are sanitised using wipes.

The additional measures have taken its toll on Surinder and his family, to the extent they have had to reduce the hours the shop is open.

Surinder said: “It was hard work – we were constantly going backwards and forwards – I think I did 17,000 steps in one day and that was just in the shop. It was so tiring we also cut down our hours so instead of opening from 9am to 7pm we opened from 10am to 4.30pm.

“The number of customers who have come in and complimented us for it is unbelievable. They say when they come here, they feel really safe. We did it because we wanted to be safe, but it works for everyone.”

Surinder may be confident his family’s All Seasons DIY store will continue. But his banqueting business – which he closed down in early February – is another story altogether.

“If the government said we could open, I have thought about how I would do it and keep people separate,” he said. “You could do it with the tables, you could do it with the toilets, and the kitchen and even the stage. But how do you do it on a dance floor? Unless you draw circles on it and tell people to stay inside them!”

Surinder reckons the only way his banqueting hall could continue to operate would be by reducing the maximum number of guests from 200 to around 60. More outdoor space would also have to be made available.

“These are some of the thoughts I’m having,” he said. “I have got to do it so we are safe and that whoever is with us – the caterers, guests etc are safe too. The last thing I want is for there to be an outbreak.”

In the meantime, Surinder is putting his empty banqueting hall to good use – by offering it to a nearby school for social-distancing purposes.

The government has published COVID-19 secure guidance to support businesses to reopen and for workers to feel confident, safe and empowered to return to work.
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