Today, Waterford.FYI talks to Seamus Reynolds, CEO of Morris’s DIY store, which has been trading for over 35 years in Waterford. It is the largest, independent builder’s providers in the region and a popular store for locals to visit. Seamus, himself, is a big fan of shopping local.
Like most local retailers, the store has had to adapt very quickly to a new normal since the lockdown in March. Seamus has been safely guiding his staff through what has been a very difficult time. They have operated a delivery service to the community behind closed doors all while creating safe new ways of working amongst themselves and for when customers come in.
Below, Seamus shares his experience of the past few months with us and is looking forward to fully reopening on May 18th.
Read the interview
How have things changed for you since the lockdown in March?
It’s been stressful, to be honest. It’s constant on high alert. We’ve effectively been here all along since the lockdown, creating habits with the staff of washing hands. I tell you, it gives you an appreciation of freedom, it’s something that you forget nearly, you know?
How has the shutdown of so much impacted the community, your staff, and suppliers?
It’s been incredibly difficult for everybody. In the early days, people were unsure of what was happening. You know, the first Saturday we had to close, and we were actually open that morning and realised we needed to close. It was two o’clock in the morning before some clarity came in. But since that, people have got on with it. Our suppliers, everybody has had to deal with this; a lot of people are closed.
In what ways can customers and communities support local business now?
I would be a major, major fan of shopping local. I have a 13 & 15-year-old daughter where we must exhaust the local shops first before shopping online – it’s a battle; I don’t like it :)! I think it’s really critical, and particularly in this time, that we support local businesses, it’s so important. I think it’s really critical, and particularly in this time, that we support local businesses, it’s so important.You know, the online stuff, the multi-national companies coming in from abroad and they have no injection or input or put- back into the local economy.
Instead of ordering online and it takes two or three weeks to come, what we try and do with my kids, is go into the local retailer because chances are, they might be able to order it and get it in for you. Local people of Waterford should step up to that in the future. It’s critically important.
How are your staff doing; what are ye doing to keep up morale?
One key thing is that communication is constant. The likes of social media or What’s App have been really good to get messages out there. We kept all our permanent employees on the payroll, they were never left off or put on short-time. As we developed our email orders and forms, they gradually came back two days and then three days. Now they are back almost full-time in preparation for opening on the 18th of May. We are dealing with phone orders but also getting our house in order.
You have an online shop already?
So, we have a website, we don’t trade online. Personally, I don’t like online shopping but we need to be there. The problem we have is that we are a builders providers and we’d stock about 60,000+ codes, and it’s very difficult to put that up onto an online platform, but we do recognise we need to be selling online. We’ve got a bit of work to do to get there!
Has social media been of help to your business?
It has. It allowed us almost instantly to reach our customers and say “Look, we’re here, we’re doing our thing and here’s an email address and telephone number. Send in your order and we’ll do our best to get it out to you as quickly as possible.” In the early days, it was taking three days to get it out – you find your feet as you go along. We learn.
Do you feel ready to reopen once restrictions are revised or eased?
Yes, prior to the closedown, we would have had a lot of measures in place. We put sinks, handwashing stations, and we have two entrances into our retail business and trade entrance at the rear of the building. We have wipes for our customers, we wipe down the tills and have screens between the employees and customers at the sales desks. We’re constantly wiping down our surfaces and have doubled our contract cleaning for staff areas and public toilets. We are also managing the numbers coming into the building. So it will be more of the same when we open up – you can only deal with what comes at you.
We will try and get our customers served as quickly and safely as possible; that’s the plan.
Do you think there is enough information and support out there for local retailers?
It was difficult in the early days as we were all trying to find our feet. Waterford Chamber were excellent in their communication. Retail Excellence Ireland were absolutely phenomenal. The information was clear, concise and to the point. There were a couple of grey areas in there though – we weren’t sure if we could open or were to close. We made the decision to close so when were doing the online business, there were no customers in the shop. I think the information was good overall.
Have you availed of financial supports?
Oh, yes! I think this wouldn’t have been able to happen without it; it was very good and badly needed. Well done to the government for that.
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Is there anything you feel the government could do that would help you get up and running again?
Personally, a very big part of our business is the building end of it snd there needs to be a very clear recovery plan for the foreseeable future. Be it’s six months, eight months, twelve months or even two years, I think there needs to be confidence back into the market again. The message out there from the government should be to remove any element of fear people might have. Unfortunately, jobs will go across the country, but that there’s some way to reassure people that they’re not going to lose their house, some sort of plan. It’s going to be difficult but be told ‘This is how it’s going to happen.’ Getting confidence back.
What has been the hardest part of all this for you?
Hmm, I’ve been managing businesses for thirty years, had a really difficult time in 2007 & 2009 where the market just collapsed and the building end of it just stopped but absolutely NOTHING compares to the pressure of somebody’s health in your business, be it a customer or a staff member and you’re worried about them asking if there is somebody going to catch it (COVID-19) or are we doing enough to keep everybody safe. That surpasses anything I’ve ever had to deal with. It was so difficult.
When we do have our freedom back, what’s the first thing you’d like to be able to do?
Just breathe, relax. I can’t wait for that, haha! To go home and sit down and just switch off for a couple of hours. We’ve been here constantly, worrying about customers, suppliers, everything. It’s the simple things I look forward to really.
When you do get time to relax, what do you?
As I said, I have two girls, that’s my life, what I love doing – spending time with those guys, you know? We might take a bit of time away when all this is over and we get a chance.
If you had one message right now for your customers, what would it be?
We’ve been trading for over 35 years, a locally owned and locally run company. We’re one branch effectively and we’re involved in the community, be it through certain campaigns or charities, things like that. We strive every day to provide the best service with quality partners we can and we will continue to do that to our best into the future. Bear with us.