Thousands of stores have gone dark. Shoppers have pulled back on discretionary spending. Thanks to the spread of coronavirus, retailers around the country are suddenly experiencing what’s it’s like to lose all of their revenue.
“We’re all experiencing a shutdown of our business,” said fashion mogul Tory Burch, the founder of the eponymous brand in an interview on Tuesday. “In some cases, we have no revenue. In some cases, we’re limping along.”
Faced with such a bleak outlook, the industry is seeking immediate government aid to shore up its finances and save millions of jobs. Burch is leading the coordinated effort with the support of trade groups and dozens of retail executives.
“We need help now. Or an entire industry could fail,” she said.
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Retailers are a major component of the U.S. economy, employing 52 million, or one in four people, according to the National Retail Federation. However, it could be crippled by widespread store closures that prevent it from paying fixed costs like payroll and rent. According to Burch, many retailers are considering laying off 50% to 80% of their workforce, or potentially filing for bankruptcy. “Those jobs are in peril now,” said Burch, who employs more than 4,000 people.
The industry is looking for three types of relief: grants to keep their employees on payroll; temporary relief on rent payments via support for their landlords; and relief from duties and tariffs for the next 12 months.
While many of the nation’s largest retailers who temporarily closed their stores had stated plans to be back open by the end of March or early April, that timeframe looks increasingly unlikely, especially in New York, California and several other states that have ordered the closure of non-essential businesses without giving an end date.
Burch is working in coordination with trade groups—like the American Apparel and Footwear Association, Council of Fashion Designers of America and the National Retail Federation—starting with a telephone campaign with her husband Pierre-Yves Roussel, a former LVMH executive who serves as CEO, last Thursday. Within two hours, they had reached out to executives at 20 companies, including Gap, Levi Strauss, Ralph Lauren, Michael Kors parent company Capri, and Tapestry, which owns Coach, Kate Spade and Stuart Weitzman.
She is also taking the case to the White House and lawmakers, speaking with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Friday evening and maintaining “constant” contact with House Minority leader Kevin McCarthy. On Tuesday, she sent a letter to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and has enlisted the help of influential figures including Vogue’s editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, who has in turn reached out to lawmakers like Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer.
Burch, who has begun calling herself a “professional inserter,” says she has not been above using emojis of prayer signs in her text messages. She is unsure when her own stores will be back open. “We’re all just winging it,” says Burch.