Lonely at the Top: The Challenges of Leading a Bed Retailer During the Coronavirus Crisis
The pandemic is punishing businesses just now. There’s no other word for it and senior executives have had a real challenge on their hands as they try to steer their ship through the choppy waters of the COVID-19 world. Closures… redundancies… observation of safety guidelines and more, this is a look at some of the challenges leaders of companies in the sleep industry have encountered as they try to keep their companies afloat in the face of adversity.
Movement At The Top
Dreams is a big name in the beds industry and, in the early stages of the coronavirus crisis, shocked audiences with the news that two of its directors would be leaving. The company announced that its Chief Marketing Officer, Tony Holdway, and retail director Paul Owen would both step down. Marketing Director, Simon Moore, would report directly to the CEO, Mike Logue.
This change came partly due to the response of shifting more towards digital in the times of the pandemic. As the Government decided to shut down non-essential retailers temporarily but still allowed businesses to operate online, the move reflected this. The closure of stores has forced business to turn to the internet more and the chief executive had said that Dreams would need to invest more in digital.
It isn’t just Dreams’ current style of operation that the coronavirus has scuttled. The company was lining up some acquisitions and also a big brand campaign. The latter included sponsorship of the Tokyo Olympics, which, of course, isn’t happening until next year now.
The shutdown of stores has created some big problems for bed industry businesses, but even before the pandemic, Bed Bath and Beyond had undergone upheaval at the top. When the CEO Mark Tritton arrived in November 2019, his first priority was to get his team in place to steer the ship successfully. He let a large part of the C-level team go late in the year.
Then along came the pandemic and the management had to address a load of temporary closures. The interesting thing is, the basic plan hasn’t changed for Bed Bath and Beyond, who have had to close 200 stores permanently, mainly due to the pandemic but also because they weren’t performing as well as the company wanted them to.
One of the biggest challenges of leading the company through the crisis has been working out how to stick with the plan. To do that, the CEO, in an interview with Forbes online, told the magazine they had to categorise its plans into constant and variable. What could they control? What couldn’t they control?
As a result, Bed Bath and Beyond has pushed back plans to remodel 25 stores, but has boosted its kerbside pickup and buy-online-collect-in-store service. Merchandising resets are ongoing but a little slower and there are efforts to reduce inventory and clutter.
Taking Over a Store From Administration
Unfortunately, the nation is going to see many redundancies during the pandemic, although in the case of Relyon, who announced this summer that there will be 82 redundancies, this has been part of a planned restructure. The Relyon factory at Wellington is one of Somerset’s biggest employers.
In August, the Michco 2001 Ltd bought the firm from administration and allowed many workers to heave a sigh of relief. Relyon may have let 82 workers go, but as many as 400 could have found themselves out of work in the restructure. The former Relyon Group chief executive, Ian Topping, along with other private investors, set up Michco 2001 Ltd and gave the brand a fighting chance during this pandemic. The deal has saved 280 jobs.
Mr Topping was pleased to have led the acquisition and, as part of an independent business, looks forward to working closely with Relyon’s managing director, Alan Chapman, with the business’s customers and developing its products to grow the business and create more jobs. This is a challenge in a country which is officially experiencing a recession now.
Rebranding a store in a pandemic is no picnic. The bed retailer Bedstar is one company who have taken it on and will rebrand its store Woodwards as a Bedstar store in September. Along the way, the business has had to surmount a number of obstacles, however, and still has some to overcome.
For one thing, the beds industry has had to contend with the problems coronavirus has caused in the supply chain. The pandemic has stopped manufacturers from getting the materials they need to make the beds. This has caused lead times to increase by as much as eight weeks, according to Bedstar’s Digital Marketing Director, Jonathan Stalker. At one point, Bedstar was expecting to run short of some of its biggest models during summer.
Of course, Bedstar have had to follow the Government’s safety guidelines in its store, but doing this and staying afloat is difficult for any business just now. The company has tried to overcome this challenge by fusing its online and offline experience. They’ve made customer safety their top priority, with measures such as making hand sanitisers, gloves and face masks available, allowing no more than two sets of customers within the store at one time and setting up a one-way system within the store so customers can browse safely. While they’re in the store, customers can browse the whole catalogue of products on touch screens, try products out and order them for a swift delivery.
Addressing the safety issue is important because consumers will be looking to feel as safe as possible, according to Ipsos Mori research. They need to know and see that staff are following the safety guidelines and also that they’re encouraging their customers to comply with them.
Managing a company at any time is a challenging task, but during this pandemic it’s been exceptionally difficult. Closing shops, rebranding, ensuring stores have stock and, generally just keeping the company up and running during this time have all posed problems for executives. They’ve made some tough decisions, but ones which will keep the companies marching towards victory, hopefully.