Reunited: Working Together for A Safe and Responsible Reopening

Dee Singletary 07/24/2020

Roughly four months after the shelter-at-home pronouncements saw businesses around the world closing their doors, parts of the country and economy have reopened or are in the process of reopening. It’s a tentative and precarious dance, with each state choosing the status that works for them and their risk profile. Virginia, for example, is now in Phase III, while Arizona and California have had to reverse their status as new infection numbers spike.

What is clear, though, is that businesses need to develop policies for reopening safely and securely, and to plan for what their business might look like post-Covid-19. Research and insight firm Nielsen calls this “exit strategies from [the] restrictions”. And those edging toward plans to exit mass population lockdowns includes us at Rappaport and many of our merchants.

In this atmosphere of uncertainty, making reopening plans feels a little like sticking our heads above the ramparts to assess the battle around us, but it is a necessary move that comes with additional risks and fears to be managed, and we’re working with our clients to manage them.

A movement in history

Our lives and businesses have been dramatically altered in such a short period of time. The impact of the novel coronavirus was massive and unforeseen. Many have lost jobs, loved ones, and incomes. Furthermore, we are now reeling from the shockwaves of another tragedy, the brutal death of Mr. George Floyd in Minneapolis has sparked outrage over a stunning display of police brutality caught on video and ignited protests against racial injustice at many of our shopping centers, across the nation, and around the world.

Moved by this, many artists and activists have transformed public spaces with protest and art installations, murals and messages, and thankfully many retailers and companies have publicly committed to support them – making for a real sense of community coming together in the face of clear injustice. This is a continuation of the collaboration seen at the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak – like the #PaintTheStorefronts movement – and demonstrates the strong ties between us, as well as the fact that our retail spaces operate as public spaces too.

At Rappaport we want to take this moment to say that the safety of our employees, merchants and customers is paramount to us. We embrace diversity and are committed to working and rebuilding together.

Data-led

Prior to developing our reopening strategy, we spoke to a range of clients, customers, and peers. We garnered input from almost 1700 survey respondents, to try and understand how people are feeling about transitioning towards more openness.

One common theme emerging from this data is that people are concerned about dining in restaurants, but are open to dining outside/patio areas, which is why we’ve looked at ways of supporting and promoting venues who have pivoted to a takeout, drive-thru, or outside-dining concepts.

From this data, we were also able to plan for staged openings, beginning with the essentials and working up to “luxuries” like eventing and salon services – which people tell us they’re open to attending only later in the year, and with all appropriate safety protocols observed.

In this together

Retail is a high touch sector, and this leaves us with many questions about how we operate in a “low touch economy”. Coined by strategy and business design firm, Board of Innovation, this is the “new state of our society and economy, permanently altered by Covid-19”. It is, they write: “characterized by low-touch interactions, health and safety measures, new human behaviors, and permanent industry shifts.”

Experts expect that low touch models will be mainstream for at least 1-2 years, and the Board of Innovation says the companies who come through this successfully will be those that are able to adapt their business models.

Solutions and tools for retail

At Rappaport, we’re compiling a series of articles on some of the innovative ways retailers have already transformed themselves, and you can read the first ones here and here.

We have already seen many of these adaptations in practice – from restaurants who became drive-thrus to corner stores that embraced deliveries, and even brick-and-mortar shops that launched their ecommerce offerings. We’ve also seen emerging trends such as appointment-based retail, and the installation of clear guards between cashiers and customers.

Last but not least, there are the practical concerns of reopening, including how to minimize physical interaction between employees and consumers, encourage and maintain physical distancing, and to implement (and communicate) enhanced hygiene protocols.

Our plans

As we said before, we were pleased that Rappaport remained open for business throughout this time by employing a remote working strategy. In the next phase, we worked with retail tenants to help them prepare and adapt, sharing best practices and the latest verified news, as well as guided webinars and tenant reopening guidelines.

We extended the outside seating options at many of our centers and implemented ValFresco in the Village at Leesburg.  Customers can treat themselves to some delightful takeout food and drinks from their favorite Village spots in our open-air plaza and enjoy live music outdoors every Saturday. We also reworked infrastructure to accommodate curbside pick-up. A digital campaign was initiated to communicate matters like open hours, special hours (e.g. senior shopping times), and what offers were available and when.

Our efforts included the launch of our Welcome Back campaign at our shopping centers. This was a fun and high visibility campaign, featuring “We Missed You a Lot” messaging, social media promotions, welcome signage, digital advertising, and even a Shop, Stop & Go Pick Up program where necessary.

We are in this together, and together we are stronger.