Minister, are you trying to pull the rug out from under us?
Cue the tumbleweeds. Is this the end? Is it time to throw up our hands in defeat, note the time of death and declare Bermuda’s retail industry in the obituaries?
According to government minister Wayne Furbert, retailers don’t stack up to our online competitors in the United States. This is one of the rationales for the Government’s newly launched MyBermudaPost partnership with the online shopping platform MyUS.
Since we don’t cut it, he and Mrs Furbert shop online all the time. I mean, why try to support the local economy and Bermudian jobs when you can send your hard-earned cash to an overseas big-box store instead?
Who knew that the Government wanted to give you more fashion choices and make money on the side with your dime? Forgive me for scratching my head, but why is our government encouraging us to spend money overseas when so many Bermudians are already suffering from unemployment? Nice to know your government isn’t satisfied with running the country but now wants to be local retailers’ competition.
It’s not enough that the pandemic is disrupting global supply chains and ocean containers are backed up on both coasts, sending retailers scrambling for product but now we have the pleasure of falling behind the Government’s foray into retail. So much for “we’re all in it together”. By the way, not once during this pandemic have I heard a single politician mention local retailers and how during these challenging times it’s important to shop local. Not once. Now I know why.
Minister and Mrs Furbert, like every Bermudian, are certainly entitled to make their purchases anywhere and that includes overseas online retailers. But hopefully they will still want to patronise our local retailers, too. They will know that every purchase made in Bermuda with Bermuda dollars will stay in Bermuda and keep their neighbours in retail employed. But please — and I mean please — do not fall for the distraction of there aren’t enough dresses to go around for every “female” on the island. Next we will be hearing that a “male” can’t get a tie to go to his WFH office.
For several weeks owing to the spike in Covid cases and, tragically, the many deaths Bermuda has experienced, we have been on a de facto lockdown. If it has been a while since you’ve been in town, I can assure you that you will have your choice of parking space pretty much anywhere you like. Traffic? There is no traffic.
Bermudians are so stressed out and worn down from this pandemic that barely anyone is coming out of their homes, let alone shopping in our local retail stores. It’s understandable that online shopping numbers would be significantly higher during a pandemic and that Bermudians would want to take every precaution to ensure that they don’t contract this deadly virus.
No one in the local retail industry is finding fault with anyone for shopping online, but, come on, our own minister wants to turn business away from our island? Just exactly how many empty stores in Hamilton and St George’s signals economic growth for Bermuda’s economy for this minister? I’m thinking none.
Is this what we really want? If the goal is to annihilate an industry that employs local Bermudians by creating one more blockade to business sustainability, then tell me, what is the vision for Bermuda’s future? What do the good minister Mr Furbert and members of Cabinet want to see in retail’s place? What industry is poised to hire our families and the more than 3,000 Bermudians who are already employed in retail?
Don’t we want Hamilton and St. George’s to have increased vibrancy for our citizens and visitors? Don’t you want to stroll down the streets through Hamilton and St George’s and see something that you can’t live without? Don’t you want Bermudians to be employed and have their own businesses? I know I do.
Ask yourself one more question: do you as a Bermudian want your tax dollar going to this enterprise? That’s right, you’re the one funding this gambit to, ahem, save money.
Our economy has been contracting for a dozen years and just when we thought it couldn’t get worse, our little island was slammed by a worldwide pandemic. If that’s not enough, 136 countries have agreed to a 15 per cent global tax system that will be severe detriment to our economy should we lose international business. Stay tuned to “MyUSCongress” for further developments while you’re trying out MyBermudaPost. We’ve already seen what happens to a small, island country when approximately 6,000 people left Bermuda. Not. Very. Good.
The Government likes to tell us that they are not responsible for the success or failures of the private sector. However, it is our government that creates the conditions in which local retailers must operate, including our exorbitant duty. Try being competitive with your US counterpart when you not only have inland freight but ocean freight and, like our small business, duty at 25 per cent along with a host of other costs. Want to do the maths? Here’s a sample:
• Wholesale candle: $35.00
• Inland freight at 15 per cent: $5.25*
• Ocean freight: $2.75**
• Duty at 25 per cent: $8.75
• Wharfage: $0.43
*In the interest of full disclosure, retailers are on occasion able to secure free inland shipping or reduced shipping depending on what the manufacturer will do for them. But 12 per cent to 17 per cent shipping is a pretty typical cost. **Ocean freight is another challenge, but this number is fairly accurate.
There are local delivery and Bermuda Customs clearance fees, too, but let’s not get a migraine over our $35 candle at wholesale. Our landed candle is costing well over $50 and it hasn’t even been unpacked. Breakage? Don’t worry. At this point we’ll just eat that cost. For the bricks-and-mortar retailer, there is more maths to do with rent, salaries, electricity, payroll, corporation tax and insurance.
Don’t forget that we need accountants, lawyers, contractors, plumbers, electricians and a host of other local professionals in order to maintain our shops. Tell me, what do you think is a fair price for this candle? For those of you playing at home, our candle retails for $88. You must be thinking that it’s hardly worth it — and you would be correct. Whenever possible, most retailers shrink their margin to ensure your business.
There has always been a certain allergy to shopping locally by many Bermudians. Perhaps it’s the excitement of travel, the big lights, big city and the elusive lure of something out there waiting to be discovered — just not in your own backyard.
Retailers, believe it or not, understand this better than most that your quest for something special for your wardrobe or your home is important to you. This is why we spend so much time and money in our attempts to attract your hard-earned Bermuda dollar. We absolutely understand and accept that it’s our responsibility to raise the bar and provide you with the service and selection that you deserve, but if our government is going to pull the proverbial rug out from under local retailers, then we will continue to see empty storefronts and further unemployment of Bermudians.
Then what would the good minister say?
ELAINE C. MURRAY
Owner of Torwood Home (formerly The Irish Linen Shop)