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Adrian Hinchliffe of Verona responds to the Coranvirus crisis

March 2020

Adrian Hinchliffe, Managing Director of Verona, the UK’s largest distributor of tiles, discusses how Verona has responded to the recent worldwide crisis, and how the business is taking measures to safeguard its employees and customers.

“The situation the tile industry is currently facing is unprecedented. We have all been through tough times before with economic downturns and a lack of consumer confidence, but this crisis presents businesses with a whole new challenge; one which is about safeguarding employees and customers.”

Since the beginning of the outbreak, Verona has been closely following Government guidelines at every stage with our senior management team taking its responsibilities seriously from the outset. We began with introducing additional hygiene measures at head office and our warehouse, advising extra hand washing, but soon came to the conclusion that more serious measures needed to be taken. Three weeks ago we began trialling remote working. The trial went well, leading us to quickly base all office staff from home, while splitting the warehouse into smaller teams to limit the number of people in close contact.

Our final decision was taken at the start of this week, when we advised our merchandisers to stay at home and temporarily closed our warehouse whilst we review the latest Government guidelines advising that only essential work should continue. We do have customer orders coming through from retailers who are selling online, so we are looking at the safest ways to fulfil these whilst taking care of our team, as the wellbeing of our employees is our main concern.”

Communication with our customers has been key, with regular communication from day one. It is more important than ever to be open and honest with your customers, and to communicate with them at every step of the way. Retailers are also trying to navigate their way through this crisis and need to feel that the industry as a whole is working together to survive and come out the other side. In terms of business support, we’ve offered independent retailers extended credit terms to help them manage their cashflow during this difficult period.”

Customers continue to have access to their online portal so they can check stock, view account details and download marketing materials. Orders can still be placed online and the customer service team will contact customers regarding delivery dates once the warehouse is fully operational again.”

What tips would you give to other tiling distributors?

“Follow the Government’s advice and put your people before your profits. Businesses are facing huge challenges and financial pressure, but there is support out there with the Government’s financial aid packages.”

Your staff, colleagues and customers are what are important right now, and we all have a moral duty to do what we can to safeguard their wellbeing. We are all in the same position, manufacturers, distributors, retailers; we all face a turbulent time, but remember we are all in it together. Do what you can to help your customers survive and keep communicating with them. Be open and straightforward. Get the sales team on the phones to check in with customers, make effective use of email marketing and social media to update your customers regularly and keep in touch.”

How do you think the tiling industry will come out of this?

“It is hard to predict the future of the industry right now, and it really depends on how long the crisis continues, not just here in the UK but worldwide. All markets are affected and this will have knock on effects later down the line.”

“At first, there was a slight upturn in sales as consumers rushed to get ready for home improvement projects while house-bound, but we’re expecting to see that drop as people follow the advice to stay at home and avoid all unessential travel and contact. The majority of our independent retail customers have been forced to close their showrooms, though some continue to trade online and we expect online sales to hold strong, at least for the time being.”

“We expect the industry as a whole to see some impact on stock availability as Italian, Spanish, and Chinese manufacturers have all been affected, though fortunately we have a large stock holding so we’re not expecting to suffer from too many stock issues.”

“The long-term effects will depend on consumer confidence and levels of disposable income once this is over. We expect some consumers will invest in their homes after spending so much time looking at their four walls and outdoor living areas, but at the same time many UK homeowners will have taken pay cuts or be left in a position of financial insecurity making home improvements a low priority. Time really is the biggest factor for the industry.”

“At this incredibly difficult time, the Verona team would like to wish everyone all the best. Stay at home, stay well and let’s all come through this crisis together.”

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