By Justin Biel, trends editor at Grow Wire
⏰ 4-minute read
Sunnyland Outdoor Living, a retailer of patio furniture in Texas, is one of many retailers reopening as stay-at-home orders expire.
Sunnyland has seen strong sales, though reopening wasn’t an easy call.
The giant showroom makes it easy to comply with state guidelines regarding customer capacity. Sunnyland provides masks, which are required for staff and strongly suggested for customers.
Sunnyland Outdoor Living, a family operated patio furniture store with locations in Dallas and Frisco, Texas, reopened on May 1.
For VP of Operations Brad Schweig, the decision was not an easy one. He faced ongoing concerns about COVID-19 and general uncertainty in the market.
“We don’t have any perfect options here,” Schweig said during Sunnyland’s first week back in business. “If we don’t open up, we lose out on crucial sales, but reopening carries a number of challenges too.”
“If we don’t open up, we lose out on crucial sales, but reopening carries a number of challenges too.”
The reopening was part of a phased approach to get businesses up and running by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, which allowed all retail stores, restaurants, theatres and malls to open at 25% occupancy on the first of the month.
After missing out on sales for all of April — a crucial period for the consumer-facing retailer of high-end patio furniture — Sunnyland opened its 37,000-square-foot retail space with several new policies intended to keep customers and employees safe.
Opening weekend saw a better-than-expected turnout, followed by a Saturday of “nonstop” foot traffic and a Sunday whose traffic was “on par” with Mother’s Days of previous years. In short, Sunnyland is back in business. But Schweig’s operations are still feeling the effects of their recent hiatus.
Sunnyland Outdoor Living reopened on May 1 when Texas restrictions lifted.
Are customers ready to shop at retail locations?
On May 1, Schweig wasn’t sure if customers would show up after a month of stay-at-home orders. But instead of a quiet showroom, he saw a surprising turnout.
“Saturday and Sunday, there were definitely people out buying furniture again,” he said.
On reopening weekend, "there were definitely people out buying furniture again."
The showroom was so busy that Schweig left his normal position in the back office and jumped onto the sales floor. He isn’t sure whether the traffic, which has continued, is specific to his product or industry. He does know, however, that selling patio furniture while some outdoor spaces remain inaccessible has its benefits.
“Your backyard is pretty much the only place you can go outside that’s not under government control,” Schweig said. “If you can’t go anywhere on vacation, why not create a little resort in your backyard?”
Schweig explained that sales have been “strong for the past week” of Sunnyland’s reopening, but overall, the business is on pace to be financially “flat” compared to this time last year.
Aided by a loan from the Paycheck Protection Program, Sunnyland has kept all employees on payroll thus far. The government-backed loan covers three months of payroll, and to keep staff after that, Sunnyland needs to remain open and keep selling furniture.
Sunnyland's 37,000-square-foot showroom made it easy to comply with social distancing guidelines.
Safety policies for opening a retail location
Schweig has instituted a number of policies to keep employees and customers safe during reopening.
1. Keeping the distance
Sunnyland is observing the 25% capacity rule set by state law. Its massive retail space makes it easy to comply, Schweig said.
“Our maximum occupancy is 256 people,” he added. And yet, “I don't think we’ve ever had that many people in our store.”
👉 Pro tip: Prepare to comply with state guidelines around occupancy when reopening your retail location.
2. Masks all around
All Sunnyland employees are required to wear masks, and the company is encouraging customers to wear them too.
It’s not mandatory that every customer wear a mask, Schweig explained, but “it’s a very strong suggestion.”
He purchased a large quantity of masks from the Dallas Morning News and now offers them to customers at each Sunnyland location. Signage hangs on store windows telling customers that complimentary masks are available inside.
👉 Pro tip: Don’t rely on your customers and team to provide safety equipment. If your business is financially able, consider providing masks, hand sanitizer, etc. on your own.
3. Addressing employee concerns
Employees may have different levels of comfort about reentering the workplace. Schweig recommends addressing these concerns directly and protecting vulnerable populations.
“We have one employee who is in her late seventies, and we made the decision to keep paying her but allow her to stay at home,” he said. “Still, some employees are concerned [about coming to work].”
👉 Pro tip: When reopening, listen to employee concerns. Take into consideration any populations that have a higher risk of getting sick.
When shopping Sunnyland's showroom, customers are "strongly suggested" to wear masks.
The reopening process
According to Schweig, there was nothing emotionally easy about reopening amid rising COVID-19 case numbers in Dallas Fort Worth.
He said that he thinks “the county could shut us down again” if case numbers continue to rise.
For now, though, Sunnyland is open for business. Schweig’s game plan involves complying with state laws and adjusting his strategy as needed on a daily basis.
“We’re doing our best to keep business going,” he said.
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