To close or not to close? It's pretty much up to dealers

Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint shut the doors on some of their stores this week in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, but what about the dealers/authorized resellers who sell their phones in independently run shops across the country?

For the big brands, it appears there aren’t too many dealer stores that are closing unless they’re forced to do so by state or local mandates. They may be cutting back on store hours, however, according to National Wireless Independent Dealers Association (NWIDA) President Adam Wolf.

“A lot of these guys can do some of this stuff remotely,” such as refilling a customer’s account via credit card on file. “We haven’t heard or seen too many actual flat-out closures,” he said, noting that’s just based on the conversations he’s had with a handful of people and not on any kind of big nationwide survey.

Anybody with a store in a mall is most likely closed. As for the dealers running shops for MVNOs like Boost Mobile, it’s pretty much up to them if they want to stay open, depending again on state or local mandates. California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday instructed the state’s 40 million residents to only go out for essential reasons and to maintain a safe social distance from others.

“Can you make an argument that a cell phone store provides an ‘essential service’? You probably could,” Wolf said.

RELATED: Verizon, T-Mobile, Apple close retail doors amid COVID-19, impacting carriers' Q1

Some MVNO dealers will get compensated for the affected time period. If dealers are forced to close stores or no one is coming into shop, this will help them out. “It’s better than nothing,” Wolf said. “We thank them for stepping up and supporting the dealers in that way. It’s a good thing overall.”

Boost can’t do much beyond March since its ownership is in limbo – going from Sprint to Dish Network after the closure of the T-Mobile and Sprint merger.

Boost has about 7,500-8,000 dealers and Metro by T-Mobile has on the order of 9,000. With the merger in play, Boost dealers have been in uncertain times, as they don’t know how many stores Dish will decide to keep open. Wolf indicated there’s an dialog going on but declined to go into detail.

RELATED: AT&T latest carrier to close retail stores in COVID-19 response

Jeff Moore, principal at Wave7, said checks this week indicate most dealer-run stores for Verizon and AT&T remained open, although the situation is fluid. T-Mobile appeared to be keeping one store open in each market that was checked, whether it be a corporate-owned store or a dealer. Boost stores generally were open, as were those of Cricket Wireless, the prepaid brand of AT&T.

For Cricket and Metro, an estimated 2% of stores are corporate and the rest are run by dealers, and the percentage for Boost is similar, according to Moore.