A well-known Cookstown interiors business has urged the government in the UK and Northern Ireland to consider providing additional help for retailers forced to close during the coronavirus lockdown and likely to experience reduced trade for the rest of the year.
CFC Interiors, which sells furniture including sofas, beds, dining tables and homeware, has availed of a loan from Danske Bank through the UK government’s Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) to enable the business to trade through the current situation.
While the company has been able to furlough the majority of its staff and has continued to sell some products online, CEO Paul Wilson says that like most retailers who are now preparing to reopen, he is not expecting a return to normal trading any time soon.
“The government’s furlough scheme has been great for us and I am glad to see it extended until October. But I don’t think there is a clear understanding of the scale of the challenges that retail businesses are facing. Our two busiest times of the year are Easter and October. We lost Easter so we are hoping we get October, but we don’t yet know the impact of social distancing,” he said.
“I’m confident customers will return and will shop local, but they will return gradually so we won’t be as busy when we re-open. I’d like to bring some staff back part time initially until we can assess the levels of footfall and we can now do that under the furlough scheme. But for us and others, a full recovery could take some time. The sector as a whole may need more help.”
Mr Wilson said he hopes the furlough scheme will mean that consumers will still have money in their pockets when lockdown lifts and, having spent a lot of time inside, will be inclined to spend more making their homes look good and feel comfortable in case there is a second wave of the virus and they are confined again.
He also said that, while customers appreciate physically seeing premium products and getting expert advice on them, CFC plans to further invest in its online offering in response to the virus restrictions accelerating the change in customer buying habits for big ticket items.
Mr Wilson added: “The loan we got from Danske Bank was a big help because in the short term cashflow is the main issue. Stock that we have bought and paid for is not being sold and new stock continues to arrive. Businesses need all the help they can get and for us it was a painless process with Danske.”
Carol McCready, Business Banking Manager at Danske Bank, said: “Undoubtedly retail is one of the sectors of our economy which could face a longer road back to the position it was in before coronavirus. But we are hopeful that strong, long established businesses like CFC Interiors will see loyal customers start to return when it is safe for people to go to the shops again.”