Customers will face a very different world when stores reopen

Browsing is out and safety equipment for staff and customers is a key focus


Electrical stores, opticians, motor dealers and garden centres are among the businesses re-opening their doors on Monday following weeks of enforced closure. Preparing for this has taken time, effort and money, and customers can expect things to be very different when they show up.

Doyle’s Nurseries and Garden Centre, Cabinteely, Dublin

The thin surgical gloves that customers now see every shop assistant wearing won’t be much help in a garden centre, where staff are lifting heavy pots and working with plants, according to Susie Doyle of Doyle’s Nurseries and Garden Centre, the business she runs with husband Séan in Cabinteely, south Dublin.

“Instead, we gave them all several pairs of gardening gloves that are washable,” Doyle explains. “The one thing that we will really promote is that everyone keeps their hands clean. There will be hand sanitiser there, everyone will be encouraged to use it.”

Doyle’s Nurseries spent €1,000 on hand sanitiser alone as it prepared to reopen. It also bought perspex screens to protect staff and customers at its till. It is also reorganising access to the building that houses the paypoint. Normally, customers go in one door and out the other. Now they will go in one door and exit by the same one, before the next client steps in. “It’s just easier that way,” Doyle explains.

The business has a small car park, which Doyle now believes will be more of an advantage when it comes to regulating entry to the nursery and garden centre to comply with social distancing.

Seven people, including one part-timer, will return to work on Monday along with Doyle and her husband. All it needs now is for business to return to something like normal. “I am confident,” she says. “We’ve been preparing for this for the last few weeks, we’ve put all the right measures in place. But we will have some sense of trepidation on Monday morning, we don’t really know what it’s going to be like.”

Jennings Opticians, Thurles Co Tipperary

Fiona Kavanagh will re-open her optometrist practices in Tipperary and Kildare on Monday, but the move has come at a cost. Ahead of reopening, she has had to buy new equipment to measure pressure on the eye for two of her three businesses . The equipment her outlets had been using for this testing used aerosols, which was deemed too much of a risk. The new machines cost €1,200 each.

Social distancing means fewer people in each of her three businesses – Jennings Opticians in Thurles, Co Tipperary, and KW Opticians in both Cashel, Co Tipperary, and Athy, Co Kildare – so there will be less space in waiting rooms. Kavanagh envisages that appointments will halve, with sales likely to drop at a similar pace.

The State pays optometrists €22.51 for each eye test. That does not even cover the cost, so her businesses rely on selling glasses, frames and so on for their livelihood. With fewer patients, this will drop.

She expects 10 of her 18 staff back on Monday. Several are not available as they have no childcare as crèches remain closed. And Kavanagh also notes that part-time workers are better off on the Government’s €350 a-week Covid-19 payment.

Kavanagh has also had to invest in personal protective equipment for staff, including hand sanitisers, which cost €420, while her outlets will provide face masks for customers. Kavanagh points out that this is to protect her staff, as they have no way of knowing for how long a client has worn a mask, where it has been or to what it may have been exposed to.

Customers can also expect perspex screens at tills which cost about €100 each. as well as floor markings and signs to direct them. Kavanagh paid a human resources company €350 to train staff for this new way of working.

Kavanagh acknowledges that just reopening brings with it a stiff bill. “I did not have to spend all this money,” she says. “But I wanted to do it the right way, I wanted patients and staff to feel comfortable and happy that they were safe. You can’t be haphazard about these things.”

DID Electrical

Customers going to DID Electrical on Monday will immediately notice something different at its 28 stores around the Republic, says managing director Ken Fox. Managers will greet them at the door to ask them what they want: they know whether or not the branch has it in stock.

If it is not there, people won’t be let in. Browsing is out, for now anyway. If the item is in stock, the customer will go in, collect, pay for the equipment and leave without dallying to look around on the way out.

“It will be a totally different experience for our customers,” Fox acknowledges. “There will be no browsing and no playing or handling the displays. And that is something we would have encouraged, letting people play around with the equipment, listen to it and so on.”

As with all other retailers, DID will have hand sanistisers. They will literally be the first thing anyone sees when they enter, along with the now ubiquitous perspex sneeze-screens. Floor markings, signs and posters will guide customers through the store.

Fox estimates that getting each outlet ready has cost more than €10,000. He notes that the cost of some necessary equipment rose sharply: face masks, now needed for staff, are selling at around €3 each. Some suppliers also sought payment upfront.

DID established a specific management team to oversee the reopening process while each store appointed a “Covid-19” official to ensure each did everything necessary ahead of re-opening.

“It’s what’s needed,” says Fox. “It’s probably going to be that way for the foreseeable future, maybe right up to Christmas.”

Hyundai Ireland

Garages will reopen for car sales, repair and maintenance on Monday. Stephen Gleeson, Hyundai Ireland’s managing director, says the business is doing “everything the HSE (Health Services Executive) is asking them to do. There will be screens between customers and staff, you will see people wearing gloves and all the hand sanitisers are in place.”

When it comes to repairs and servicing, mechanics video the car from the ramp, so they can show the customer the work that needs to be done to get approval. Hyundai dealers have had this service for some time, but few clients used it. Gleeson anticipates that more will now do so.

However, he points out that it will take more time, as mechanics will have to talk through the problems with each car and the work that needs to be done on video. Hyundai will deep clean and decontaminate the vehicles themselves, using ozone gas which kills most bacteria, when it has finished the work.

Dealerships are generally large premise, but as Gleeson points out, they tend only to draw smaller numbers of customers. Consequently, they are easy places in which to manage social distancing.

Hyundai recently automated the storage and dispensing of smaller spare parts by installing several four-storey carousels, which retrieve items when instructed by a computer. Gleeson notes that they cost around €200,000 each.

The company already has experience of working with Covid as it services Garda cars along with vehicles used by the HSE and other State agencies.

“We will be functioning as normal on Monday,” Gleeson says. “But with enhanced safety measures. Everyone will have to do it, it’s just a must.”