There is one story dominating the national news cycle this week, that feels unavoidable to mention. Unavoidable because the consequences of the Covid lockdown rules have effected all our lives, both personal and business related, for the past two years.
I think everyone would agree that it's the bereaved who have the greatest claim of anger at the revelations coming out of Westminster in recent days. So taking that as absolutely read, as a business-to-business journal, commenting on how restrictions impacted our dealer readers seems within our remit.
We all know of the stringent rules imposed across retail beginning March 2020. These are rules that we know you, our dealer readers, strove diligently to confirm to, despite making the running of your businesses extremely difficult. However, comply all did - and it wasn't merely out of a fear of prosecution if caught contravening laws. From feedback and conversations we've had over the past two years, the sense is very much of an acceptance that this was the right thing to do at the time. That the rules were there for the greater good.
I mentioned it briefly last week, but cast your mind back to those early days of the first lockdown. Dealers were studying the wording on official government websites carefully, in order to work out what they could or couldn't do. Whether they were an 'essential retailer' or not? Help interpreting the, oftentimes confusing, messaging came from trade associations such as the AEA and BAGMA and I recall our publication devoting much time to relating the latest advice and thinking.
More to the point, dealers themselves had to fundamentally alter the manner in which they conducted their businesses. Working practices had to adapt pretty much overnight. Showrooms were closed to the public, colleagues were furloughed, outdoor serving areas built, remote collections and drop-offs instigated and getting to grips with the digital business world, all had to be rapidly embraced. It's no exaggeration to say that the way dealers worked, was turned on its head.
Sadly of course, there were some business casualties for whom the new way of working, simply wasn't achievable. There were cases of the shutters being pulled up for good within the network.
Where we are now
I've been speaking to a dealership this week for an article in the upcoming issue of Service Dealer magazine, who have quite a story to tell regarding how they have coped over the past two years. Hertfordshire Garden Machinery's showroom has remained closed for the past 16 months, with Covid and its restrictions the primary driving force behind their decision. There was a period where they thought their future would see them dropping the sales side forever, becoming solely a service provider.
They have however now undertaken a refurbishment of their showroom, re-jigged the brands they offer, and finally reopened the doors to their customers just this past week. Their's is a fascinating story and one that I think readers will relate to when they hear of the tough decisions they had to make over the period.
Hertfordshire's tale is another example of an independent dealer in our sector using their resourcefulness, entrepreneurial spirit and business acumen in the face of extenuating circumstances. As they stand today, it sounds like they've come through a gruelling period stronger than ever before thanks to their hard work.
At all times though, the same as dealers across the country, they have played by the rules. They didn't pick and choose what applied to them and what only applied to other, less important, people.
Our sector can be proud of how it has journeyed through Covid. As we heard through our recent Service Dealer Awards, there are companies across the UK who changed things up dramatically and went above and beyond to do their absolute best for their customers - at a time when they needed them the most. They can hold their heads up high.
It is a crying shame that the same cannot be said for those setting the rules.