Local shops can open the door to millions of new customers with changes that “don’t cost a penny”, according to a former small convenience retailer behind a new disability advice service.
Parma Sira helped set up Business Disability Forum’s free advice service for small shops in London, which launched last week.
As well as helping with the legal duties placed upon businesses, he said the advice would provide “win-win” tips that would improve business.
He explained: “My grandparents opened their shop in Upton Park in London in 1978. It was about owning a business, not necessarily customer experience, and the approach generally was to fit as many lines in the space as possible.
“It really changed when a family moved in down the road with a family member in a wheelchair. At first, we had to carry the customer up the two steps whenever he wanted to use the shop, but it made my family think about their approach – the first step was installing a ramp. The most amazing thing happened – we started getting more business from parents with prams. It sounds simple, but we hadn’t really considered that if everyone can’t shop in your store, you’re turning away business.”
Retailers added that even those with restricted ability to install a permanent ramp can invest in a temporary one for around £100 that can be used when required.
Sira pointed out that one in five shoppers have a disability – 14 million people, with a combined £274bn in annual spending power up for grabs.
He told RN: “It can be easy to miss, because 90% of disabilities are not visible, but still make day-to-day tasks like shopping difficult. The most important thing stores can do is to say hello to every customer that walks through the door and ask if they need help.
“This opens the door to discussing the disability needs of these customers. It might might be reading a label, for instance, or carrying a basket.”
Further advice included decluttering aisles by removing dump bins, freestanding display units or stock left on the floor.
Sira also suggested reducing countertop units to make it easier to spot customers in need of help.
For stores undergoing a refit, the expert advised lowering the counter by a few inches, or providing a lowered space for goods to be deposited for payment.
He described how many stores are still using ‘no pets allowed’ signs on doors. “For just a couple of pounds on Amazon you can buy one with the all important phrase – ‘except for support animals’,” he said.
The government also runs a free, voluntary benchmarking tool for businesses called the Disability Confidence Scheme. Stores that pass certain steps receive certification material that can be used to promote the business.
Sira said the new advice service can walk any London shop through the process, or can provide its own store stickers promoting to potential customers that the shop is ‘committed to being accessible’.
Retailers in London can get free tailored advice for their store by calling Sira on 0207 089 2483 or emailing email@example.com.