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Retailers Across North America Remain Resourceful Amid COVID-19

As local and federal lawmakers across North America issue guidance to stay at home, many are permitting hardware and home improvement stores to remain open to serve their communities. Read about retailers from across North America who are continuing to connect customers with vital supplies in an unprecedented time.

STAY SAFE: The North American Retail Hardware Association has developed a poster of best practices from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to continue keeping your store safe for customers and employees alike. Download it now to print and post in high-traffic areas of your business.

In Massachusetts

At Klem’s in Spencer, Massachusetts, Jessica Bettencourt immediately began taking measures to make her store safer. Staff disinfect commonly touched surfaces every 90 minutes, they’ve taped the floor in front of the register station to space out customers waiting in line and are encouraging curbside pickup of online orders.

Early on in the pandemic, very few customers were taking advantage of the curbside pickup service, but Bettencourt says she will begin encouraging it more and more as confirmed cases move closer to her town. For customers unable to order online, Bettencourt will offer the option of texting in an order or calling the store. Customers who call will get a personalized shopping experience from an employee who will walk them through their order and make sure they get exactly what they need.

Curbside pickup is designed to keep both customers and employees safe, says Bettencourt. It’s in everyone’s best interest if sick employees stay home. She offers 3 days paid leave for an employee who needs to be tested for COVID-19. If they test positive, she offers another 14 days paid sick leave. While such a move could potentially have a large impact on payroll, she says that’s part of the price of dealing with this pandemic.

“What is difficult about this situation is that you don’t know if as a business person you’re doing too much or not enough,” she says. “Anytime you try to make your business safer, such as limiting hours or paying staff to stay home, you are also putting your business at risk. Every decision is a hard decision.”

In New York

At Village True Value in East Hampton, New York, staff now cleans the door handles every hour and the credit card machines after every use. Cashiers are now wearing gloves because they touch cash from customers.

The store recently sold out of toilet paper and masks and can’t stock more. Gloves, coolers, batteries and propane have also sold rapidly. Some customers are asking for home delivery. Others want orders to be loaded in their vehicles for them so they have minimal interaction with staff.

The customers’ anxiety seems similar to how they react during hurricanes, except COVID-19 doesn’t have the familiar pattern of the storms that come to the area.

“It’s like a hurricane that never ends. We’re trying to keep people calm,” manager James Boyd says. “We live here. These people matter.”

In Indiana

Adam Taylor with Trust Hardware in Lawrence, Indiana, changed most of his spring endcaps to feature products like gas cans, cleaners, bottled water and paper towels—products that are in high demand now that his toilet paper and gloves have sold out.

Customers are also buying large amounts of propane because they’re grilling at home now that restaurants in Indiana are only able to offer takeout or delivery, Taylor says. He and his staff have also been making more deliveries to people at their houses.

“We’ve been delivering to people who are either too scared to leave or not able to leave home,” Taylor says.

In Iowa

David Larsen, manager of O’Donnell Ace Hardware in Clinton, Iowa, has a cleaning checklist for employees to use every hour, now that COVID-19 is a threat. They wipe down the entire front of the store, including the cash registers and the doors, and the bathrooms. He asks employees to stay at least 3 feet away from customers.

Like so many other stores, O’Donnell Ace has sold out of toilet paper and has gloves and cleaning supplies on back order.

“My main concern is doing everything we can to keep our staff healthy and provide the service that our customers are used to,” Larsen says.

In Ontario

Shari Reaume, training coordinator of Turkstra Lumber Co., a building materials supplier with 11 locations throughout southwestern Ontario, says being resourceful with employees and customers is critical in times of emergency.

Though no one on staff has been infected, the company decided to institute a work-from-home policy for administrative staff and employees who do not directly interact with customers.

“Staff who have laptops and cellphones and can work from home have been requested to do so,” she says. “We’re doing our part to stop the spread of the virus.”

Reaume says the company has 270 employees in total, and while working from home, employees will take advantage of online retail training to stay engaged and prepare for their return to work.

“We’re still figuring it out, but we’re trying to be proactive and protect our employees,” Reaume says. “The faster we can respond, the faster we can get this under control.”

In Pennsylvania

In Bellevue, Pennsylvania, T&M Hardware & Rental marketing and human resources manager Samantha Post prioritized customer communications as news of COVID-19 hit her community.

Post crafted an e-blast to her company’s subscribers, reminding them independent home improvement stores stock many of the very items customers were desperate to find.

“Our whole company has been built on customer feedback,” Post says. “We came to a point where we wanted to remind customers we had many of the items they were looking for, even if our competitors were sold out. One of the best things about being an independent is that we can be reactive, so we’re working as diligently as we can to keep our store stocked and transfer items between our locations.”

The e-blast also outlined steps customers could take to minimize contact during a transaction, including placing orders online via social media and calling the store when they arrive to arrange curbside pickup.

Post says the e-blast falls squarely into the shop-local movement and highlights the versatility and resourcefulness of independent home improvement retailers.

“This was an opportunity to place the local hardware store as a hero during this time,” Post says. “We reminded people that these products and these services are things we offer each day, not just in times of crisis.”

In British Columbia

In Campbell River, British Columbia, Canada, Pioneer Home Hardware Building Centre owner-operator Theresa Handel says her store is seeing a steady influx of customers, even as some staff members stay home to reduce their possible exposure to COVID-19.

Before joining the home improvement industry, Handel worked as a nurse. Her time in the nursing profession included outbreaks of H1N1 and SARS. She has spent much of the past few days speaking individually with employees to confirm they feel safe and comfortable continuing to work.

“I have immunocompromised staff who have decided not to work right now,” Handel says. “I’ve got some staff members who are worried about exposure who have decided not to work, and I’ve got staff members who are here for the long haul. Everyone has a different comfort level.”

Handel says she’s supportive of whatever decisions her staff members make.

“It’s a daily conversation—sometimes an hourly conversation,” she says.

Amid crisis, Handel says she feels solidarity with other home improvement operators.

“We’re not in this alone,” she says. “Reach out to others in the business who can offer support. These are unprecedented waters, we’re all doing the best we can.”

Let Us Know

How is your home improvement business making the best of an unprecedented situation? How are you ensuring employees are safe while continuing to serve the needs of DIYers and pros? Send an email to Hardware Retailing profiles editor Kate Klein to share your story.

About Todd Taber

Todd Taber
Todd is an assistant editor for Hardware Retailing magazine. He graduated from Indiana University where he majored in journalism and French. Throughout his career, he has aimed to highlight small businesses and their community value. He joined NRHA in 2017 and now serves on the news and marketing teams. In his free time, he likes to run, spend time with family and travel the country.

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