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Restrictions in NSW are easing. Here’s how small businesses are preparing

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Dion Sereni

Oct 7, 2021

After more than three months in lockdown, restrictions will ease for businesses in NSW from Monday 11 October. Soon, some of the hardest hit industries, like hospitality, retail, and arts and recreation, will once again welcome customers through their doors. Up until 1 December, restrictions will change in stages and gradually expand the range of permitted business activities. 

The impending dates have sent small businesses into a flurry of activity to prepare after months of hibernation or pivoted operations. We spoke with three local businesses from a range of industries to find out how they’re getting ready as well as sharing tips for the months ahead.

The restaurateur and brewer – Karl Cooney from Yulli’s

Yulli’s has been pioneering delicious vegetarian and vegan food since 2008 at its three restaurants in Sydney and Byron Bay, and brewery, Yulli’s Brews. While the Sydney lockdown has certainly been tough on business, Karl is optimistic about reopening. “My first emotion is excitement. I’m pumped to be doing what we love again, rather than what we have to do to survive. Restaurants are about the experience.”

One of the main priorities for Sydney’s imminent reopening is a refresh of the menu to diversify from what has been offered for takeaway. “Our chefs have been bored over lockdown so they’ve been working on new dishes the entire time,” says Karl. “We’re closing our takeaway in one venue just to nail the preparations before welcoming customers from 11 October.”

Since Yulli’s has been operating with a leaner headcount during the lockdown, the team is also busy checking staff availability and confirming rosters. There’ll be some minor changes to help boost cash flow too – diners will have a time limit for their seating, something many venues have introduced.

The homewares retailer – Elise Pioch from Maison Balzac

Photo by Dave Wheeler

Known for beautiful home scents and colourful glassware, Maison Balzac grew from Elise’s nostalgia for her home in France and now includes a flagship store in Surry Hills, which opened in May – just before lockdown began. 

Despite the stress of closing suddenly, switching to Click & Collect proved successful and online orders grew due to what Elise terms the ‘glassware effect’ – when people buy little luxuries to brighten up their day. During lockdown, the business increased how often it connects with customers via social media. “Online has been a lifesaver,” says Elise. “It’s allowed us to be in touch with our customers, wherever they are.” When the doors reopen, the emphasis will be on creating a captivating experience in-store. To prepare, Maison Balzac has re-merchandised the space to give it a fresh look, including new furniture. 

Reopening comes just as Maison Balzac prepares for Christmas, its busiest period. This year, the business is bringing much-needed fun and humour to customers through a playful collection of holiday products and creative window displays. It’s all about creating a joyful experience, in and out of the store.

The yoga studio – Jourdi Bleu from This Is Yoga

When restrictions ease, Eastern suburbs yoga group, This Is Yoga, will keep its online offering. The business has learnt to take a staggered approach to reopening its studios, with one remaining a dedicated online filming space for the time being. This timeline allows a buffer for the business and its customers to adjust to the shift. 

“Not everyone will want or be able to come into the studio right away but we still want them to be able to practice with us,” says operations manager, Jourdi Bleu. She does look forward to welcoming students back in person, however, since yoga has a strong focus on community. 

To get ready for the shift, Jourdi has been overhauling the class timetable and translating community lockdown challenges (like 30 days of yoga or meditation) to suit a hybrid format and draw people back to the studio. She’s also preparing a membership sale upon reopening, in part because the studios will initially open only to members – rather than single class or trial students – to ensure a great experience for the community that supported them during lockdown. 

Building your re-opening checklist

Not sure if your business is ready for recovery? Here are some priorities you can work through to ensure the basics are covered: 

  • Review your finances: The past months have slowed revenue for most, so work with your advisor to have a clear cash flow forecast. Find out when any debt is payable, reduce unnecessary spending, and recast your budget to reflect the new reality. Consider government assistance, where available (although this will change over coming months). 
  • Check regulations: It’s important to know what government regulations apply to your business and when. As you reopen, be sure to check what licensing changes apply if you’re operating differently to before and what these will look like over the  stages.
  • Think safety: Make sure you have a customer and staff safety plan in place so you’re confident you can keep everyone healthy. Check out Safe Work Australia.
  • Plan your communications: Think through how you will communicate with customers, suppliers, and staff. 
  • Monitor what’s working: As you reopen, keep an eye on the changing needs of your customers and be open to further adapting operations.
  • Have a back-up plan: Think through back-up options that will keep operations strong if the crisis escalates again.
  • Build your timeline: Map out a realistic timeline for returning to operational strength, acknowledging that everything can’t be done at once.

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