Over the last five months we have all experienced or observed “defining moments”. These unprecedented times when we are confronted with tough decisions that will typically follow us for a very long time. During COVID-19, Retail Alliance faced significant challenges as it related to our four business units under the Retail Alliance umbrella.
Our “for-profit” company, Business Solutions Inc. experienced a significant loss in revenue.
Our 501(c)3 non-profit Retail Alliance Foundation relies on support from member dues and Business Solutions income therefore was also hit financially. Thankfully, in a very short space of time we were able to pivot our face to face educational program to go 100% online and continue our classes.
Our legislative arm, the Virginia Retail Federation, had to turn their focus to be constantly monitoring and engaging with both State and Federal Government initiatives relating to the CARES Act, PPP, EIDL, shutdown guidelines, and finally reopen guidelines through Phase 1, 2 and 3.
And finally, our Retail Alliance team changed their in-person events, visits, etc. to really making sure that we were doing everything in our power to help our retail members and small businesses endure these challenging times and get through to the other side.
My challenge to staff was to be on the forefront during this defining moment to support, consult and advise our members, customers, students, as well as the wider retail industry. Staff got together as a team and have done the following:
- Granted a Dues Relief initiative for those members who have renewal dates in the months of March, April, May, June, July, and August. Those that qualify for dues relief are Co-Op Tenants, Retail Alliance Branches, Retail Members, Retail Partners and LOVEVA Sweethearts. Their adjusted renewal dates will now be July, August, September, October, November, and December accordingly. This will help provide some financial relief to those businesses struggling with cash flow. Those that do not qualify are Co-Op Partners, RMC, Signature and Premier Partners.
- Conducted weekly livestreamed Coronavirus Briefings each Friday at 9:30 a.m. We began these briefings March 27th with an emphasis on State and Federal relief initiatives. These briefings have been well attended and are available and archived on Retail Alliance’s YouTube channel. Our lobbyists with the Virginia Retail Federation, Jodi Roth and Kate Baker, along with our Board of Directors Legislative Committee chair, Jenny Crittenden, have been regular presenters regarding guidelines regarding the various phases of reopening. We have also hosted Misty Leinberger from Pixel Financial Group, Tara Jones from Fulton Bank, and Terri Ruby from Blue Ridge Bank to help explain and answer questions from businesses about PPP & EIDL applications and guidelines.
- Added additional Retail Relief webinars to our regular STRIVE webinar line-up that covered topics on employment, furloughs, and lay-offs; SBA loans and topics covering digital marketing and video marketing, etc.
- Created a dedicated Coronavirus Resource portal on our website which was kept current to communicate updates, financial relief options, resources, and best practices during this pandemic. In addition, we communicated these updates through emails, social media and our member directors.
- All in-person events were rescheduled, postponed, or cancelled to comply with the “safe distancing” and “stay at home” mandates initiated by the Federal and State Governments.
- Our office and staff have gone through four levels of operations: staggered scheduling; virtual working; office shut down; and finally reopening on July 6 after Virginia moved into Phase 3. We have kept in constant contact with members and clients throughout each level of operation.
- Retail Alliance was able to secure masks from the state to be distributed to our businesses for staff use. We have distributed approximately 30,000 masks and more are still available!
- We continued with our 2020 Certificate in Retail Operations (CROps) launch, moving to delivering it completely virtual on June 1st with 23 students!
I am proud of the Retail Alliance staff. They have stepped up to the challenge and tirelessly advocated and supported our members and businesses. Just as importantly, I am proud of our members for using their creative ingenuities to not only remain in business but to continue to support their own staff while sacrificing in many cases their own financial resources.
We are not out of the woods yet and neither is the retail industry. We both have a long way to go but, with tenacity and endurance, we will move beyond this and thrive! This is our defining moment! Be safe and stay strong.
Ray Mattes, President/CEO