Facilities managers in the retail sector are set for unique challenges as shops reopen.
Staffing problems and clarity over responsibilities are set to affect facilities managers as they work through the implications of reopening high street shops, department stores and shopping centres. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that thousands of high street shops, department stores and shopping centres across England could reopen from 15 June once they are Covid-19 secure and can show customers would be kept safe.
However, Martin Reed, chief executive at Incentive FM Group, has told Facilitate that following the guidelines and planning the reopening of a retail space post-lockdown requires “a different pace altogether” compared with a commercial office.
“In a shopping centre of one hundred doors with one hundred queues to manage, is the retailer going to manage that? Or, because it comes out onto the mall, is it the facilities provider that will manage that because that’s the person who normally deals with the common area?
“If that’s the case, normally you’d have six security guards on patrol, but now you might actually need 20. That is alongside the concierge, extra cleaning staff and a generally higher rotation of staff. At government level they are talking about things that have a significant impact on what we do.”
A report by Centre of Towns published last month said: “Reopening retail invokes a complex set of challenges for high streets and town centres.”
It states that to guarantee social distancing a shop or retail space’s floor space would have to be divided by 12 (12 square metres is the safe parameter). In a shop with available floor space of 300sq m it would mean allowing a maximum of 25 people in at one time. Shops may have to create “a one-way system to ensure customers are moved through the store in as safe a manner as possible”. Floor markings, screens and internal signage would also have to be used.
The report added: “Retailers have legal and public health obligations to their staff, customers, and the public. This places a heavy responsibility on them and town centre managers. The government must ensure that our retailers and place managers receive overwhelming support when managing this process.”
Boots, Sports Direct and Doc Martens are among retailers working with systems company Inurface Group on solutions including an electronic queue management system that keeps a count of how many people are in a shop, allowing store managers to decide how many people it allows to enter.
“With more people hitting the shops and ‘revenge buying’, there is going to be a knock-on effect of more waste being produced by retailers”
Josh Bunce, CEO of Inurface Group, told Facilitate: “Over the last couple of months we’ve developed a people-counting and management system that recognises features in your face, knows when you’ve come into the store and when you leave. We then have screens at the door of a shopping centre or retailer; it’s like a traffic light system and indicates whether people can enter or not. That means you can remove that person at the door and use technology to manage the flow of people in and out of the store.”
The company is joining others in developing a thermal monitoring camera to read a person’s body temperature, and is working on a digital signage hand sanitiser.
Tony Whitehorn, UK retail operations director at real estate company Savills, said communication would be “key” as retail operators reopen. He told Facilitate: “At our managed sites we have been engaging with our occupiers and store managers to not only understand their plans as they start to return but also communicate what measures we have taken as we look to support one another for a successful reoccupation. The messaging is critical, it may be the same centre, but we now have a new day-to-day operating model as we factor social distancing into our plans, queuing and one-way systems as well as additional cleaning and safety measures.”
Savills has spent a lot of time getting signage and marketing campaigns, floor vinyls to assist with flow around centres and well-trained frontline staff to facilitate this. Whitehorn said: “It has become clear that no two retailers have the same plan for reoccupation, so flexibility is crucial in how we handle the increased logistical challenges of deliveries and occupancy numbers within retail units.”
According to Whitehorn, the largest challenges will be queue management, flow and occupation numbers of customers. “We will be taking a very collegiate approach with our occupiers and the relationships between them and our management teams are more important than ever,” he explained.
“We will be assisting with queuing systems, offering support and guidance where it is required, sharing best practice between different sites but also pulling on parallels with our colleagues from Europe and Asia on how they have managed successful reoccupations and welcomed back customers safely.”
Meanwhile, waste management company BusinessWaste.co.uk, stated that the lure of “in person” purchases as non-essential shops reopen would see shelves cleared, but also lead to massive increases in needless waste.
Spokesman Mark Hall, said: “With more people hitting the shops and ‘revenge buying’, there is going to be a knock-on effect of more waste being produced by retailers.”
If the UK follows the trend seen in China of revenge buying, then this means that there will be an increase in waste created by high-street retailers, which will be ordering supplies to fill up their shelves in preparation.
Hall said: “Supply chains are not just about getting products on the shelf; it also includes the removal of waste by waste collectors, so we need to be ready to deal with a sharp increase in waste from retailers following the revenge buying trend.”
Some local councils have a strict policy on times for waste collections outside of shops, with set hours for deliveries and waste collection before the road is only allowed for pedestrian use only, and businesses can face heavy fines if they leave waste in the street during pedestrian hours.
“Retailers and local councils need to be ready and have extra collections in place in preparation for this surge of sales.”
Hall added: “Waste and recycling is a vital supply chain resource. To get the retail sector as ready as possible for the rush of ‘revenge buying’, so we don’t see mounds of rubbish on the high street.”
A stationary person requires 12.57 metres of space to maintain a social distance of 2m. On the move, this calculation becomes a random dynamic even with human being making their best guess as to what constitutes 2m of space around them. For town centres and retail environments the nature of the space itself matters. In a public space this calculation holds, but in a shop the presence of a wall, display or counter changes the nature of the calculation.