Some retailers and manufacturers of school uniforms are expected to approach Government for assistance, over being left with possibly millions of dollars in inventory due to the decision not to have students return to the classroom for the upcoming school term.
With uncertainty over when schools will re-open for face-to-face learning, the business people told Barbados TODAY an already dire situation has been made worse.
Managing Director of Woolworth Martin Bryan said that sales of school supplies had started this week and was expected to be ramped up over the next two to three weeks following the release of the 11-plus exam results.
However, with the announcement on Tuesday that students will engage in online learning come September 20, sales immediately plummeted.
“The three to four weeks coming would be our make or break really and now we are not making, we are breaking.
We are sitting down on thousands and thousands of dollars of inventory we paid for before and some bills are coming due now and we don’t know how long we have to sit on it for,” he explained.
“What normally would happen is that money would be tied up, you then sell the uniforms and use that cash to buy stuff for Christmas. But with that money tied up now, it leaves us in a serious quandary,” he added.
Most of the retailers would order school uniforms seven to nine months in advance to get them in time for the August/September back-to-school shopping period.
Bryan told Barbados TODAY that some sector officials would be reaching out to Government to see what assistance could be offered even if in the form of loans so they could fill the void that has been created.
“We are hoping that Government can come to our aid and help give us an ease with our cash situation. If we can get some money, not as a grant, but that can help tide us over and then we can pay back when we sell the school clothes whenever the term begins,” he explained.
“We don’t know if that is going to be a month, two months or three months. We just don’t know and neither do they. But it would be nice if we could get some kind of monies from the Government so that at least we can be in a cash flow situation where we can buy new goods for Christmas and then once school starts back and we sell the school clothes we can pay back the money,” he said.
Woolworth hires about a dozen temporary sales agents and cashiers annually to help with the expected increase in back-to-school activities at the Bridgetown department store.
However, Bryan said that programme has been dramatically affected.
“All of those people we have had to lay off,” he said.
Rosita Hunte, owner of Regal Elegance, a garment manufacturing company, told Barbados TODAY she was all for “some form of assistance” to the sector.
She explained that the COVID-19 pandemic had put a significant dent in her operations two years in a row, and that with the lingering uncertainty, there seemed to be little hope of being able to keep up with meeting operational expenses.
“I have no idea how we are going to manage going forward, but we trust that government or another institution can come up with a solution because the school uniform is one of those things that we as manufacturers bank on for a core of income that would take us from one year into the next,” she said.
“With this COVID-19, it has impacted our finances, it is going to be really challenging going forward. So I am waiting for someone to help us with a solution so we will know how to move forward from this point,” she said.
Hunte, who also depends heavily on the hotel sector, for which she produces some uniforms, said while the past two years have been a “massive struggle” for her, this year was shaping up to be worse than the last.
“We have had to cut back on staff and in some cases we have had to cut back on the number of days they work,” she said.
“It has really been a tremendous struggle. It has been difficult in a lot of cases to meet financial obligations. It is the grace of God that has gotten me to this point,” added Hunte.
Meanwhile, Manager at Cam-al Enterprises Inc. Dale Worrell said people who had placed orders weeks in advance but had not collected those orders were now cancelling them.
“I was now looking for a lot of orders to be coming in especially for those now going into first form, but now everything is on hold. So it has affected this business a lot,” said Worrell.
“We purchased materials then there is the labour cost because we had the labour force going to produce the uniforms. So now that we are not having the face-to-face learning you have to basically hold a lot of debt,” she said.
While acknowledging that the COVID-19 situation was unpredictable, Worrell said it would be difficult to come up with a solution.