Today, Waterford.FYI talks to Dennis Carrol, Centre Manager of City Square about how Waterford’s largest shopping centre has navigated the many changes and challenges they’ve faced since mid-March.
On a positive note, Dennis is confident that all the stores that are open (and soon to re-open) have safe shopping for their customers at the top of their list. He has been kept busy with adapting to the changing landscape at City Square and tells us what life has been like for him during these past few months.
Read the interview
How have things changed since the lockdown in March?
From St. Patrick’s Day on, it started getting quite serious and changed the whole landscape of retail. The shopping centre changed a lot. The biggest, obvious change and shock to everyone was the number of stores that were closing down and people being let go. Everyone thought it was going to be just two weeks, but the reality was it was going to be for a long, long time. The busiest day that week was when we had to leave down the unemployment forms for people to collect – there were over 100 of them gone that particular day…
A lot of what we’re looking through is to ensure that people don’t forget that these people have to come back and we want them back. That’s very important for the shop local side of stuff. City Square has some big shops; JD Sports, for example, who are not your small independents but are still local has 35 staff from the Waterford area. It’s very important we keep that in mind when shops do re-open again.
How has the shutdown impacted your staff, customers and suppliers?
For us here, it’s completely changed. People just come in out and do their essential shopping. They have to stand two metres apart and can’t have their usual chat and talk, which is a large part of the shopping centre. A lot of people who come in here, this is what they’ve always done. It’s their place to go and somewhere to get on with their day. You do worry about those people that we see every day and wonder how they are.
From a staff point of view, some people are very happy to be here still working, helping get people in shopping and helping them out. It can be quite tiring mentally, as you’re worried about touching things, keeping things clean and making sure everything is right. Everything is being geared towards when we start back opening again.
How can customers and communities support each other now?
Well, to do the hard work now. The people that don’t need to be coming out, stay at home and send one person in. We would like our customers not to forget that we need their support when things get up and running again not to forget all the hard work the staff (security, cleaners, front line workers) have done.
Has social media been of help to you?
Social media is a great medium for interacting with our customers and getting out the information about what’s open and what’s not. We spend a lot of time pushing out what offers are on but this is not the right message for this time. Going forward, social media and websites are important – a lot of people don’t want to come in; let’s not forget that these stores have online shops too. I have to say one of our shops, Name It doesn’t have a website but the store’s manager did her own social media and it’s been phenomenal, they’ve been getting great sales out of it.
How do you boost staff morale?
It’s a difficult one to boost staff morale but the big one is to have happy staff. For employers, we need to make sure they are as safe as they can be in their work, listen to whatever issues they have and be mindful there’s a lot going on for them at home too. Do the little things to keep them happy! The best thing for the staff is to show them the respect they need. It’s difficult, you know. You try and keep your own morale up too.
Is there enough information out there for retailers?
There’s lots of guidings and a lot of stuff out there for sure. There are lots of trainings etc., but to put it all together and see what applies to us can be difficult. We have many Zoom meetings with various shopping centres around Ireland and we keep in touch to try to go through the information and share. Tying it all together is difficult.
How do you make customers feel safe when they come in?
We put a lot of effort and planning into it, going back a long time actually. From June 8th on, I’d like to make sure that everyone knows that they are safe to come in and follow the guidelines themselves. We have hand sanitisers at every entrance, people standing on doors counting how many are coming out, a full queueing system, all the trolleys are being down and sanitised and stores have floor markings. We’re constantly cleaning all the touchpoints. We’ve been looking at all the Return to Work Safely Protocols. We’re very open to taking advice as well.
Is there anything else the government could do?
From my point of view, I think they’re doing a good job but have to be very careful about how they manage things going forward. We can’t keep businesses closed forever; we can’t keep paying out all the payments, it’s a case of what supports they can give to business to reopen. People that are opening up on the 8th, it’s estimated that it’s costing about five grand just to reopen. There’s definitely stuff like that needs to be taken into account.
If you’re a business owner, you might be eligible for the COVID 19 Restart Grant from Waterford Council. Read more
If you had one message for your customers, what would it be?
Stay safe. Continue following all the guidelines. Keep washing your hands, keep your two metres distance apart and remember to shop local. Remember what the staff and all the stores had to do and that they will be there to talk to you when you come back.