ETN’s diarist and show trader Guy Roper is left high and dry as trading opportunities fall victim to Covid-19.
Well, that’s it; looks like I’m grounded for most, if not all, of the season.
I’m left with a load of stock, chasing refunds for stand space and scant chance of any earnings. But the overwhelming feeling is one of sadness.
In normal times, we’d be gearing up for Badminton; full of anticipation of four days’ brisk business and catching up with chums I’ve not seen since Your Horse Live [in November].
Working hard, exchanging gossip and having a mutual moan about difficult customers, what the shows are charging us and the cost of fuel; you can’t beat it.
Truth is, I’ve worked with many of these folk for decades. We’ve done the same shows year on year, and many have become close and trusted friends.
I’ve had dealings with some of them over the years too; mainly ‘arrangements’ made over a handshake and a glass of something 20 or 30 years ago. We won’t be doing that for a while yet…
Loneliness begins to bite
As I sit here in not-so-splendid isolation, the loneliness is beginning to bite. The internet and lots of phone calls are the only consolation.
As I eavesdrop on others running retail businesses, I’m filled with relief that my overheads, aside from stock, are mobile and pretty basic, with no bricks and mortar shop or staff bar my seasonal helpers.
Who knew that equestrian retailers would be grappling with questions such as ‘am I an essential business?’, ‘what am I allowed to sell?’ and indeed ‘am I allowed to open?’ At least with all the shows being off, I don’t have difficult decisions to make over issues with seemingly non-existent definitions.
Fellow shop-based traders are wrestling with social distancing, protecting the staff and ensuring customers feel confident.
Where to place the hand gel dispenser, how to work the till with gloves on, how many people to allow into the store at once… it must be incredibly difficult to maintain this level of health and safety day in, day out.
When we’re all out on the show circuit, if it breaks or you haven’t got a spare or the truck gets stuck, a chum will mend it, lend it or tow you out. Now, business proprietors are on their own.
Netflix in pyjamas
Furloughing staff – or asking them to continue working - seems to be giving many retailers huge headaches in equal measure.
Apparently, some younger employees regard their employers’ decision to carry on trading as a gross infringement of their personal right to watch Netflix in their pyjamas.
And as one staff member pointed out to their boss, once you deduct the cost of travelling to work and buying lunch, being on 80% of pay makes little difference to earnings - thank you very much!
Maybe some would do well to decide where they want to be when this is over. Because it will be. Moving swiftly on…
As for me, I’m left with time to catch up with the Tooit list. We all have one.
Many years ago, my old mate Harry, a tough cookie who was a BeachMaster in an earlier life, gave me a small circular Christmas present.
I undid the wrapping to find a little plate with a legend printed round the rim saying: “I’m a Round Tooit. Now you can do all the things you promised to do when you get a Round Tooit”.
I still have it and now, more than ever, I’m making progress on the deficit.
First on the list - cleaning out the lorry. In these times of shortage, I should have been more grateful for the pork pie discovered under driver’s seat.
It had every appearance of being an excellent example from an artisan producer I’d stumbled across in a show’s Rural Crafts tent c. July or August 2019.
I was briefly tempted, then decided that since I’d just furloughed the dog (difficult interview – don’t ask), it could be part of his severance package.
Actually, that’s probably a good message for these times. No, I don’t mean eating discarded food found in your truck, but taking pleasure in the unexpected, enjoying what you can and planning for the future.
It’s total crap; this week Blenheim and Hickstead have cancelled and comparisons with foot-and-mouth look silly. However, we can’t be defeated by it.
I’m not sure that my business will survive Covid-19, but I’m sure as hell going to hang on in there, if only for the people that get their livelihoods from me.
And when it’s all over – whenever that is – it’ll be one hell of a party!