Insight asked some local businesses to share with us how they were coping at this extraordinary time, what the implications were for their firms and how they were responding to the challenge.
John Blake, Sovereign
For existing clients, it is business as usual and they will continue to receive timely and accurate servicing, which is more challenging when working remotely but something we have worked hard to achieve. We may see an element of new business levels levelling off, as clients delay decisions which is understandable, but hopefully this is just temporary.
Sovereign has a robust business model and despite the disruption, will continue to prosper. Our employees, like our clients, are Sovereign’s life blood. The wellbeing and productivity of our employees is imperative to the continued success of the business. Mental health concerns could have far reaching implications for any business during the lockdown period. We are in touch daily with employees remote working. These are challenging times but the proactive and collaborative nature of our employees is truly impressive. It gives us confidence that we will come out the other side stronger, with an even more cohesive workforce.
Sovereign’s group of companies has been responding to the COVID-19 pandemic since February. Now almost three quarters of Sovereign’s 475 staff are working from home. The preparations learnings from our Asian offices enabled us to test business continuity measures earlier in our European, Middle Eastern and African locations. In Gibraltar we implemented a staged approached, initially with 50% working remotely, phasing into 85% the following week and successfully executing 100% immediately following the Chief Minister’s advice to work from home where possible. Supporting the well-being of the wider community is of paramount importance to us.
This experience will inevitably lead to many businesses to regularly test business continuity measures. It may even change the way we all work. Adapting to change post COVID-19 will be just as important as the measures taken to respond to the pandemic in the first instance.
Samir Nandwani, Tagore Group
We began following health guidelines as soon as we saw the pandemic become more serious. Sanitising of high traffic areas such as counters, telephones, card machines etc became a high priority for us as well as reminding staff to constantly wash their hands and, as things became more serious, trying to keep a safe distance between themselves and customers. Of course tourism has now grinded to a halt and with the current lockdown, shops are all closed and we have seen Main Street become eerily quiet.
We are doing our utmost to be able to serve the community in the highest capacity we can, while practicing all safety guidelines provided our Government. While our physical shops are closed, we are delighted to be able to offer a virtual shopping experience for customers via social media. Customers are encouraged to get in touch with our team via message on our Facebook page (@TagoreGroup), Instagram (@Tagore_Group) or email to email@example.com. We are able to assist and offer the full in-store range, process payments securely online, and make free home deliveries while keeping a safe distance. We like to think of it as a personal shopping experience just as if you were to visit us in store. We rely greatly on the support of our loyal customers and are so grateful that we operate in such a supportive community.
Of course, we look forward to being able to welcome our loyal customers and friends back in store very soon!
Gillian Welland, Diamond Occasion
Covid-19 has effected our business in many ways. Firstly, we have no hand washing facilities in the shop and there is no hand sanitiser available to buy so we can’t offer our clients hygienic areas. Secondly, we have a lot of families coming in both old and young, especially around communion season so again this is not the safest environment for our customers as the Corona virus spreads quickly through these age groups. Thirdly, we have a personal styling service especially with our bridal collections so again the social distancing rule cannot operate. We cannot offer online shopping as our business is very specialised. We have bought clients’ special orders in and are storing them safely until this crisis has passed and we can once again operate normally with both our suppliers and clients. We are awaiting government notices on how they will help small businesses as I believe there will be some funding available to get us through this.
Lorraine Laguea, NP Estates
Covid-19 has unfortunately hugely affected real estate agencies, as our main source of income derives from sales and lettings, it is impossible to conduct viewings under the lockdown restrictions. Some potential buyers who were looking to purchase in the last few months are also now in a very vulnerable position in respect to their job status and income and have had to postpone the idea of purchasing for now.
We prepared ourselves as best as possible under the circumstances, making sure we had photos and videos up to date so that we could provide as much visual information as possible, especially as clients will now have more time to search for their dream home and prepare their list of properties to view soon as things are back to normal. We continue to update our social media pages and keep clients notified of the latest properties available and if anyone requires accommodation now, we can still provide a virtual viewing, on some of our properties.
We were quite busy on the letting side of the business prior to the lockdown with many locals and companies moving back their employees to Gibraltar, some for short term others for longer term.
We continue to provide our landlords with our management services and we are mostly working remotely from home, although we still need to be at the office at times to access to files, printers, etc. It’s not easy but we have done all we can to accommodate our staff in this current situation.
We have a great team and I’m proud that we are pulling through together during this very difficult time and we will be ready once again to open our offices and continue to provide our clients with our personal and excellent service.
The smaller independent estate agents like us will need the support of BEAT to survive during these difficult times as most of our of source is at a standstill. Once we get back to normality it will be another 2 or 3 months until we can start making any money from sales and we don’t know how the crisis will affect the property market. The current BEAT guidelines (at time of going to press) don’t include Estate Agents although this could change as it’s reviewed daily.