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COVID-19 Response: Prioritizing Employee Safety

Rapid adaptation has been the story of David Dishke’s home improvement business as COVID-19 spreads throughout the world.

Employee Ava Dishke stands behind a plastic barrier at a cash register in Grand River Home Hardware.

“Things are changing daily, if not hourly,” Dishke says. He owns Grand River Home Hardware in Caledonia, Ontario, and Sayer Home Hardware in Hagersville, Ontario. 

Dishke’s operation began responding to warnings about the virus and seeing customers’ anxiety in mid-March.

The way his business runs has changed dramatically in just a few weeks. Starting March 15, the stores reduced hours and cut back on the number of customers they allowed in the buildings at a time.

Now, the interiors of the stores are off limits to customers, unless a customer has an urgent need that can only be resolved in the store. When that is the case, the stores allow one customer in at a time. The one-customer rule is government mandated.

“I never thought we’d do something like this,” Dishke says.

For the most part, employees take product orders online and via phone call or email, then allow customers to pick up their orders in the parking lot.

“We are still trying to provide our customers with the products they need and the best service we can during such challenging times,” co-owner Deanna Dishke says.

Early on, Dishke started cutting back on store hours to allow his staff more time to clean, as well as more time off to rest. His goal has been to keep the business operational while reducing the spread of COVID-19 and keeping his staff and employees as safe as possible.

Typical, pre-pandemic hours for the stores were 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. or 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., depending on the day. Three operating hours changes later, the stores are open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and closed on Sundays.

Dishke also made progressive cuts to the number of people allowed in the stores at a time. First, he limited shopper counts to 50 at a time.

Before eliminating in-store shopping, he reduced that number down to no more than five people in a store at a time. Only one member of a family was allowed to enter. An employee posted at the front door kept count of how many people were in the store.

The employee at the door also sprayed hand sanitizer on every customer’s hands as they entered. If customers brought reusable shopping bags with them, then the employee sprayed the bags with sanitizing solution, as well.

“We’re controlling the possibility of contaminating things,” Dishke says. “I was worried we would upset customers to a level we’ve never experienced before, but customers are applauding everything we’re doing. The percentage of customers who don’t understand is probably less than 1 percent.”

Beyond sanitizing and limiting crowd sizes, Dishke’s team implemented a variety of safety measures. They installed transparent barriers made from clear plastic, PVC pipe and zip ties around the cash registers to prevent customers from coughing on or getting close to the cashiers.

Employees cleaned the stores every hour, wiping down high-touch areas such as counters, computer keyboards and telephones. The store’s water stations and carts got cleaned after every use.

Through store Facebook and Instagram accounts, Dishke has kept customers up to date on changes, such as the fact that the stores have temporarily stopped accepting product returns.

 “We are hugely reducing the risk by all the steps we’re taking,” Dishke says. “It’s like putting armor on. I’m doing what I can to reduce the risk to the staff with the supplies we have.”

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About Kate Klein

Kate is profiles editor for Hardware Retailing magazine. She reports on news and industry events and writes about retailers' unique contributions to the independent home improvement sector. She graduated from Cedarville University in her home state of Ohio, where she earned a bachelor's degree in English and minored in creative writing. She loves being an aunt, teaching writing to kids, running, reading, farm living and, as Walt Whitman says, traveling the open road, “healthy, free, the world before me.”

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