It’s been a long and difficult journey, and our first impulse as we recover may be to drown in beer, but Stuart Farr counsels caution as we re-enter ‘normality’.
I, like many of you, had my first jab recently. A bit of an anticlimax but, nonetheless, an important thing to do I felt when faced with the possibility of an alternative worse-case scenario. I attended my allotted appointment, rolled up my sleeve, listened dutifully to the words: “You may feel a sharp scratch,” and then resisted the mischievous urge to bellow “Ouch!” as the volunteer plunged the needle in.
In fact, I felt nothing—apart from, perhaps, the slight pang of disappointment when I wasn’t offered a cuppa, a biscuit or a lollipop. I spent the following 48 hours feeling like I had been run over by a truck but a medicinal slug of rum sorted those side effects with efficacy.
So, as we emerge from 12 months of lockdowns and restrictions, what is going to happen to the gun trade and business? Frankly, it is anyone’s guess. The problem with prophesying about the gun trade is that it is all about people and, as we know, they behave and react in vastly different ways.
Some people, for instance, will emerge from the confines of their lockdown like a bear out of hibernation—ravenously hungry and lustful. Others will creep outdoors gradually over time, blinking and bewildered in the new daylight. Some individuals will stay put due to an abundance of caution. Finally, there will be those who have yet to defeat the demons that the lockdown process released on them. Sadly, some people will not emerge at all and our thoughts are with them and their loved ones.
It is generally regarded as a myth that it takes 21 days either to form or break a habit. There is, in fact, no set timescale. That said, 12 months has given plenty of time for collective public behaviours to change—and change they did. We all need to adjust to them.
For example, do we really all have an insatiable craving for a pint down the boozer or a fine meal in a restaurant? Pubs were closing in their droves before lockdown so why so much desperation for a pint now? Is it just symbolism? Do we actually miss taking a stroll down the high street on a Saturday? Erm, I don’t. I rather like getting online deliveries and after some trial and error our family has become a dab hand at finding decent quality stuff at decent prices.
It is far less hassle (and stressful) than having to spend several hours driving, parking, queuing at checkouts, or waiting for a free table and tolerating mediocre service. Hey, I can cook ‘restaurant quality’ myself now and have loads more time for other forms of leisure—and a fuller pocket, too.
Businesses in the gun trade have also broken some important habits during closure. Closed doors have meant far fewer face-to-face transactions. For registered firearms dealers, it would be understandable if, when retail premises reopen, gathering back that familiar old sharpness and attention to detail may take a short while.
Maybe some old principles will need to come back into sharper focus, too. For instance, an RFD is under a legal obligation not to sell firearms or ammunition to anyone who they believe is of ‘unsound mind’. Going back, for a moment, to those categories of people I mentioned above, perhaps this obligation will have a fresh meaning.
It is important to remember that lockdown has presented many challenges and that, for some, those challenges could be far from over. Getting to know your customers well again is a facet of retail that had become a cliché. No longer. Things have changed. People have changed, too. Vigilance is key.
In the case of remote sales of guns, accurately conducting and recording transactions is an easy habit to get out of. Consider whether you or your staff need to undertake a refresher before doors reopen. Do not fall into the trap of comfort or complacency.
A mad rush in the first few weeks can easily lead to an inadvertent error on your statutory records. Likewise, if employments have changed within your business over the past 12 months be careful to ensure that any newcomer is properly recorded with the local police if their duties will involve transporting firearms. Be sure they always have a letter of authority and a copy of the RFD certificate of registration when undertaking those duties.
Has the trading nature of your business changed during the past year? Have you engaged in fewer but more lucrative transactions—such that you might now need to register as a high-value dealer for money laundering purposes? The financial criteria are not particularly high (currently 10,000 euros). If you fulfil the criteria and need to register then be sure to have a comprehensive anti-money laundering policy in place and ensure your staff are properly trained.
Crime (especially financial crime) is constantly evolving and the past year has seen a noticeable rise in criminal activities based online. Scrutinise major transactions carefully and look for any suspicious behaviours. Be wary of high-value purchases where money is deposited directly into your business account; where the customer requests a distance/remote transaction and where the sale is cancelled before delivery or the product is quickly rejected and returned—for no clear or obvious reason—with a demand for a refund.
Never take a deposit for a gun before seeing (and, if necessary, verifying) a certificate and always consider transactions carefully where a UK resident attempts to pay with funds from a foreign bank account.
Keeping an eye on the future, however difficult it may be to predict, is essential. There is a lot of tension locked up in the business sector now as the government attempts to stave off the economic fallout arising from the pandemic. It may seem counter-intuitive that insolvencies in the first quarter this year were down compared with last year before the pandemic.
However, this anomaly is no doubt a direct consequence of the usual mechanisms for statutory demands, winding-up petitions and repossessions being placed on hold. Directors of many companies have delayed making timely strategic decisions for their businesses as a result.
In addition, government schemes such as furlough, loans, grants and business rates relief have served to create an artificial foundation of economic stability that looks set to quake and shudder as and when they are removed. Negative interest rates on bank borrowing are now being discussed so consider taking advice as to whether (and how) to manage and spread your financial risks.
Corporate restructuring has been popular during the past year as companies have sought to shield themselves from the risks present within the marketplace. As always, it boils down to being prepared in advance before your security shutters go back up.
Hard lessons have already been learned and there are more yet to come. Rather like the ‘jab’, reopening the retail sector is likely to feel painless at first. After that, I believe there will be a period of grottiness before things start to feel properly better.