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'Transformative' Covid Leaves Retailer Targeting Overseas Expansions

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

A Bahamian retail entrepreneur says COVID-19's "transformative" impact has spurred him to look at regional expansion with sales "30 percent off" as his businesses emerge from lockdown.

Andrew Wilson, the Quality Business Centre (QBC) proprietor, told Tribune Business the "accelerated development" of his store's online platform had inspired him to look at the possibility of selling product beyond New Providence and the confines of traditional "bricks and mortar" retail.

Suggesting that the pandemic has likely altered Bahamian retail for ever, Mr Wilson said he was looking at not just the Family Islands but the opportunity to use an online platform - combined with a supply chain sourcing product direct from Asia - to sell into larger markets in the Caribbean and South America.

Acknowledging that the government's dependence on VAT and import tariffs at the border created an "obstacle" to such an operation, he added that supply chains and distribution centres would likely have to be based outside The Bahamas presently even though such an operation could be run from here.

"We're not back to normal as yet, but it's self-sustaining," Mr Wilson told Tribune Business. "I'm doing better in the electronics business than the fashion lines. There seems to be pent-up demand from the period of closure, but a lot of people don't have the financial wherewithal. Compared to pre-COVID-19 I would say we're about 30 percent off."

Disclosing that he had recalled "over 80 percent, if not 90 percent of our staff", Mr Wilson said his retail formats - which opened in-store last Monday - had not been idle during the lockdown and restrictions imposed by the Government's COVID-19 emergency powers orders.

"One of the great things for us has been that during the lockdown we accelerated development of our online store, QBCElectronics.com, which bodes well for the future. We're getting good traffic and some sales. It's already open, and we seem to get transactions at midnight or on Sunday that otherwise we would not get. It does promise great things for the future without a doubt..

"We're going to continue with bricks and mortar with online. Those that have established brand names, where the customer has a level of trust in the transaction, a lot of those businesses have moved online and created online stores. Many that I spoke to who have not done so are in the process."

Describing COVID-19's impact on Bahamian retail as "transformative", Mr Wilson added that he was already setting his eyes further afield. "As we fine tune our supply chain, we expect that our market will no longer be restricted just to Nassau," he told Tribune Business.

"With digital products and the right supply chain, to the extent we'd be able to bypass the middle man in the US and source directly from Asia, we'd be in a position - barring the duty element - to compete in larger markets throughout the Caribbean and South America.

"Right now all those people traditionally look to the US. The big obstacle to that is the Government relies primarily on Customs duty as a source of revenue, so as long as that 35-40 percent is there shipping from Nassau will be a challenge. But that's one of the things we're looking into," Mr Wilson continued.

"My experience as an entrepreneur of 45-plus years is that normally in challenging times there are great opportunities. You find a silver lining. For us it's getting out there and making our online platform as strong as possible."

Mr Wilson said their location in the Mall at Marathon had helped his retail formats implement the necessary COVID-19 health protocols as security was provided by the landlord, thereby helping to ease

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