t the beginning of February, we were lucky to meet with our suppliers, dance with our friends, and celebrate our industry. In March, that soon changed, across the country we went into lockdown. We were still able to open to retail customers with provisions in place. Whilst this has continued for many of us, sadly our Metro Melbourne retailers closed their doors to retail customers for 16 weeks at the beginning of August.
If you’ve ever wondered what it must be like, we have a first-hand account from Julie Murphy, owner of Murphy’s Mitre 10.
“Firstly, thank you to those who have let me know you are thinking of us here in Melbourne. Wow, I never in my wildest dreams thought I would experience anything like the effects of this pandemic. Let me tell you a little about how life is here in metro Melbourne.
In the beginning
We were informed by our State Government on Sunday, 2nd August that stage 4 lockdown would begin on Tuesday 4th August at 11.59pm.
Stage 4 lockdown has a curfew in place and you were only allowed out of the home for 4 reasons and only within 5kms of your home. A mask must be worn any time you are out of the home.
Curfew meant you must stay home between 8pm and 5am, only essential workers travelling to and from work were allowed to be out. The 4 reasons are:
- Essential workers and you must carry a work permit given to you by your employer- that was hours of work ensuring my 30 staff all had one in their possession.
- Essential food shopping, only 1 person from each household could shop for only an hour. All retail shops, other than food retailers would be closed.
- Essential caregiving.
- Exercise, one hour per day!
This meant that from Wednesday morning, 5 August, our hardware store would be closed to the public, and only registered tradespeople could enter our timberyard. We also have a separate produce centre, this could remain open. As we all had an idea that this would occur, our weekend trade, Monday and Tuesday went nuts.
I lost sleep worrying about what stage 4 lockdown would mean to the way we conduct business. On Tuesday, I made the dreaded call to all my casual staff to let them know that they may have less hours as we had no idea how our new “normal” would work.
We advertised heavily, letting our customers know they could call us direct, place an order and pay over the phone and we would have it ready ASAP. We also let our customers know we would deliver and that Click n Collect was available. I hurriedly organised a couple of mobile EFT machines from CBA to help with the payment process. We needed to roster one person each day to man the trade gate, letting only the allowed persons in, taking each name and number on entry for contact tracing if necessary. It was almost a military process to begin trading as all our cleaning and sanitising also needed to continue to taking place.
Lockdown now in place
Here we were just over 6 weeks in and another 5 to go! What absolute madness it has been. Our new way of conducting business takes more effort, the phone rings constantly with customer orders and queries, this involves putting customers on hold ensuring we have products, answering long-winded questions and solving them, and taking payment!
Our Click n Collects come through constantly and we are forever chasing stock to ensure the customer receives their order as quickly as possible (Bunning can take up to 4 days with their CNC), we can do anything within 5 mins to 2 days. Our trade is flat out as the building industry is still working in a limited capacity.
My staff, including casuals, are working more hours than ever, I employed 2 new casuals for the yard last week and about to hire a new casual for hardware. I didn’t need to lose sleep at all! I can see the staff are tiring now and I try to keep their spirits up with morning teas, lunches, and little treats. They are all amazing but I’m sure they’d love to throw the phone through the roof some days.
Our paint sales have tripled, firewood comes in and goes out, as many people are working from home. Our garden supplies are booming as everyone wants a project. We have customers coming to our gate with questions, such an odd way to conduct business, really much safer to be open.
IHG has been incredibly supportive, we meet weekly via Teams with all 30 odd metro stores. We all chat about the week and we all have the same issues – longer sales, more staff, tired!
I look around at our community of Monbulk, and it’s so sad to see most businesses closed, coffee shops only open for takeaway, many of these businesses won’t reopen. The Hospitality and Arts Industries are in a bad way as they have essentially not opened since March. It will be a very interesting few months as we slowly emerge successfully from this crisis.
Me, I just need a haircut and would love to see friends for a coffee/wine and a chat in person, not over Zoom! Fortunately, I live or work with my 5 children so I see them daily. I have 1 son, who lives on his own so I am mindful to be in regular contact as the mental health of those living alone is terribly concerning here, with the suicide rate increasing the longer this goes on.
Life After Lockdown
When the announcement finally came through, we were filled with mixed emotions. There was a sense of relief but also apprehension. We had gotten into the swing of things and developed a rhythm with click and collect orders. Once the reality has sunk in that we were opening the next day it was time to race around the store and clean! The shelves that we’d neglected because we were too busy needed to be dusted in time for reopening.
Nearly two weeks on the staff are happier and even booking their holidays! Customers are continuing to shop and are enjoying the face to face advice. Our click and collect orders have dramatically decreased, which is a relief because of the huge workload that came with it.
Masks are still an issue for us, the 30 degree heat makes it difficult for the staff to work with whilst using them. We also have to wear them while we are outdoors and that includes while exercising.
As for me, I’m enjoying the little things we took for granted before, such as visiting the hairdresser, going out for dinner and I can’t wait until we can get to the beach again.
I hope you are all keeping well, I’m sure each state has its own restrictions and you are trading well. Look forward to seeing you all in the not so distant future, I HOPE!
Many of our members have similar stories, it was certainly a difficult period. It has been wonderful to hear how everyone has rallied around and the concern from interstate members about what has been happening in Melbourne.