What does the future hold for retail and construction sectors? | June 2020

In this month’s column two of Isle of Man Chamber of Commerce’s Sector Leads give their view on how events may unfold in their respective industries over the next six months.

Date: Sunday 28 June 2020

STANDFIRST

Slowly but surely businesses are adjusting to the new reality emerging after the end of the first phase of the COVID-19 crisis. In this month’s column two of Isle of Man Chamber of Commerce’s Sector Leads give their view on how events may unfold in their respective industries over the next six months.

Retail

Andrew Corrie, Chamber’s Retail Sector Lead, commented: “Many retail outlets reopened on 18th May. While essential retailers such as food stores had continued to trade during the lockdown and had adapted to the new world of increased hygiene, social distancing, supply chain pressures, and queue management – this was all a new experience for non-essential retail.

“During the lockdown shopping habits changed considerably, with travel restrictions in place and in the absence of physical shops to visit, there has been a massive increase in online shopping. Beyond the operational challenges presented by COVID safety measures, the returning retailers face a number of significant challenges such as diminished customer confidence, changing shopping habits, a decrease in demand for some goods and services, increased costs for hygiene/PPE, as well as issues with the supply chain off-Island, especially once the UK retailers return.

“Interestingly, Manx businesses were amongst the first to reopen and at the time of writing, some of the bigger UK operators have still not opened because they have to wait until their UK group decides to reopen. However, most Manx businesses have now been trading for up to four weeks, and while trading has proved difficult for many, with the help of the public trade will bounce back.

“It has been heartening to see the business community support each other as never before. As well as those within sectors helping each other we have also seen a real increase in cross-sector collaboration – for example, food retailers sharing their experiences and tips with hairdressers and clothing shops.

“The Chamber of Commerce has provided several webinars and question portals to assist returning businesses and the Business Advisory Service is there to help with mentoring and practical advice. Many local businesses have been helped to apply for and benefit from the various Government support packages that are available, and Chamber has worked closely with the Department for Enterprise to ensure that all support is fit for purpose and directed as needed. Many useful resources are available on www.iomchamber.org.im

“While it is true to say that there are difficult times ahead for the retail industry there is a clear opportunity that those who are agile and adaptable can not only survive, but can also grow and prosper. As John F Kennedy said: “When written in Chinese, the word crisis is composed of two characters - one represents danger and the other represents opportunity.”

“The Manx public too can help in the recovery of the domestic economy by trying to use local Manx businesses where possible, rather than spending online with off-Island web based suppliers.”

Construction

Gary Crittenden, Chamber’s Construction Sector Lead, commented: “The coronavirus pandemic caused disruption across the construction industry, with most of the sector halting operations on 27th March and slowly remobilising following a return to work on 24th April.

Construction was the first industry to return to work and I am delighted that following the robust procedures and processes submitted by Construction Isle of Man and approved by public health, there has not been a spike of new cases and currently there have been no new cases attributable to the construction industry.

“The Construction IOM board worked extremely hard during the industry lockdown period to enable a safe return to work, which will be of significant benefit to the Island’s economy in the short, medium and longer term. It has been inspiring to see how much our industry has risen to the challenge; providing more extensive hygiene facilities on-site, moving site meetings to online virtual meetings, suppliers quickly implementing a call and collect procedures to obtain materials and working practices have been adapted to comply with social distancing measures. However, I do acknowledge that it has made for inefficient working or that tradespersons have felt that certain activities cannot be carried out with two-metre separation. A revised one metre social distancing guideline has recently been submitted to Health and Safety at Work Inspectorate for review/acceptance.

“Over the last few months IOM Government has repeatedly reiterated that capital and minor works projects will be accelerated to assist with the economic recovery. The commencement of these schemes will give confidence to the industry and assists the private sector to invest in our island. Looking to the long-term, science is telling us that an accelerating rate of global warming is the world’s next crisis and COVID-19 has enabled us to glimpse what the world might be like if buildings, transport and industry had less impact upon it. In January, Chief Minister Howard Quayle laid out action plans for ‘immediate implementation’ following Professor Curran’s climate change report.

“Clearly, there is a huge requirement to upgrade existing buildings in order to come close to the target of net zero carbon emission by 2050, so this is an area our industry can significantly contribute towards. The spread of coronavirus arguably provides the construction sector with its largest challenge in a generation, but I am optimistic that we will all work together to get through this difficult period.”