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Until Texas Businesses Can Reopen, It’s ‘Retail-To-Go’

Whether small businesses can benefit from “retail-to-go” depends on a few factors.

Don Geraci / Houston Public Media
An empty storefront on Dunlavy Street near Westheimer Road in Houston. Starting Friday, businesses that closed because of coronavirus-related regulations can reopen, with Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent order allowing “retail-to-go.”


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Starting this Friday, many nonessential businesses in Texas, including malls, restaurants and movie theaters, can reopen – as long as they keep occupancy to 25% or lower.

Gov. Greg Abbott made the announcement on Monday, just three days after “retail-to-go” went into effect for non-essential retailers — meaning businesses can offer product delivery or curbside pick-up, similar to previously existing guidelines for restaurants.

One store that has been doing that is consignment shop Style Plus on Westheimer Road.

Just like all other Houston businesses not deemed essential, it has been shut down for more than a month — which hasn't been good for owner Cassaundra Henderson’s finances, to say the least.

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"I did have some savings, so I was able to tap into that," Henderson said. "And what will happen next month I don't know."

Even before retail-to-go, Henderson started working on a new website to allow customers to order online.

Courtesy of Cassaundra Henderson
Despite having lost all business during the shutdown, Cassaundra Henderson, owner of Style Plus, is not comfortable reopening her consignment store this week.

"I don't know where this is going to go, so I wanted to have another option," she said. "And I clearly see now that you have to have different options to reaching your clients."

She isn't sure retail-to-go will help her that much more, in part because customers will still not be able to try on clothes.

Still, she said she isn't comfortable with reopening for customer traffic so soon.

"I think I'm going to continue with the pickup at the door and do it by appointment only," she said.

Henderson does believe with both the new website and retail-to-go, she will be able to hire back her laid-off employee and possibly take on one additional one.

But that depends on whether people will actually come out and buy. Many consumers have been anxiously awaiting a return to normalcy, according to Connie Porter, marketing professor at Rice University.

Porter said many people will probably want to support their favorite businesses, but it's unclear just how many others will remain wary of going outside of their homes.

"Without foot traffic, upon which smaller businesses truly depend on…even just to pick it up, those stores are going to suffer, even if they're open, potentially," she said.

Another challenge is the supply chain. Under normal circumstances, small businesses may have deliveries on a regular schedule, Porter said. No longer.

“In this environment, larger distributors are going to have to figure out, you know, is it economic for me to actually do a drop-off at this small business on this neighborhood street here in Houston in these circumstances," she said. "And so having product available, I think, is going to be kind of a challenge."

Porter also said those retailers without a website are at a disadvantage when it comes to ordering from home, whether for delivery or pickup.

But over at the Almeda Mall in southeast Houston, Dany Martinez thinks that retail-to-go and a limited reopening might make more of an impact on the small mom-and-pop stores that aren't online.

He and his wife own Fajas Con Mary, which specializes in women's shapewear.

"For those smaller companies that don't have shipping, that don't have online or anything, the retail-to-go is probably going to be a savior for sure," he said. "They rely on customers to come in their store daily. So since they have this option, customers can at least call in and make a few purchases."

Martinez said his company just added a website three months ago. And it's kept the business afloat – if barely. They have had to lay off three of their 12 employees and furlough two others.

Being in a mall, Fajas Con Mary has another challenge: As of Monday, the store still wasn't open for retail-to-go because the details of how it will be done have to be discussed with mall management.

For about a week after the shutdown order, the mall didn't even allow employees inside, Martinez said, so they couldn't do any sales at all during that time.

He hopes retail-to-go will attract more customers, who don't want to wait for deliveries and pay extra for shipping.

Martinez said he’ll reopen for customers Friday, even if just in a limited capacity: he plans to only allow two people in the store at a time, and will take extra safety precautions.

But, he added, he welcomed the governor's reopening order.

"That's obviously great for retailers, for us, that definitely rely on foot traffic," he said.

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