Sunshine Ace Hardware
Bonita Springs, Fla.
Michael Wynn is president of Sunshine Ace Hardware, which was recognized with Ace’s “Coolest Hardware Store” Award in 2011. The company operates eight Sunshine Ace Hardware stores, two Crowder Bros. Ace stores and Sunshine Commercial Paint, all in Florida. The first Sunshine Hardware store was opened in 1958 by Don Wynn, Michael’s grandfather.
How have sales and customer counts been since the COVID-19 outbreak happened? We certainly have seen some positive, strong sales. It depends on the category. Overall sales have fared well, but early in the outbreak we saw our customer counts negative. We had to close two gift stores that were not deemed essential, but they are back open now. We also had some B2B business that was tied to restaurants. We’ve experienced the highs and lows before with hurricanes, so we’re as prepared as a retailer can be. We’ve developed coping strategies for inventory management and ordering for a time period when there are unusual circumstances.
What has the overall impact been on your business? There has been strong demand for paint, grills, lawn and garden, fishing, pool and patio. People are nesting in their homes and recognizing all the deferred maintenance projects they have the opportunity to fix up. With all the volatility in the stock market, more people are seeing their home as a good investment, so we are benefiting from this new appreciation for home improvement.
Have you had any staffing issues? Operating in South Florida, we have a high percentage of associates over the age of 60—53 percent. Many of them are concerned about being at high risk, so they took a leave of absence. Some had specific health issues and felt they needed to take leave. The majority of those are back now. We also gave people an opportunity to work in non-customer facing positions such as back office or administrative work.
What adjustments to operations have you made? There are concerns with offering hazard pay, since we didn’t know how to define the beginning and end of the situation. So, we’ve looked for opportunities to provide thank you bonuses. Our quarterly bonus in April was equivalent to 85 percent of the total bonuses paid in all of 2019. We reduced store hours for two months. This provided some relief to our team while allowing more time for cleaning protocols. We returned to normal hours on May 18.
What safety protocols have you adopted? In addition to our team cleaning protocols, we have outside professional cleaning companies come in multiple times a week. All associates as well as outside vendors have their temperature taken at the beginning of their shift—we’ve been doing that for at least 30 days. We’ve been blessed that associates listened to our encouragement to stay home if they have a fever or any other symptoms. Only a handful of employees have been sent home with a fever. Plexiglass shields have been installed at registers. All associates have been required to wear face coverings since early May.
Are customers taking the proper precautions to keep your associates safe? Customer use of masks depends on location. In some markets where the average customer age is higher you see 70 percent wearing masks, while in other markets it’s 30-40 percent. We strongly encourage customers to wear masks for everyone’s safety. Safety protocols can be turned into a political issue. If too many people are inside the store and there’s not enough social distancing, we’ve empowered our managers to have the ability to limit access to the store. We have also identified a social distancing officer for each store to guide people to the right behavior—they’ve only had to step in a couple of times.
How has Sunshine Ace found new ways to serve the community? People and community organizations know to reach out to us due to our reputation and core values. One of our core values is “Care for your neighbor.” When we see a need, we are proactive in reaching out. A local healthcare company, NCH Healthcare System, reached out for help. It’s not easy to secure products on the scale they need, but we’re used to sourcing products from various suppliers. We put together two sets of care packages for every one of their 5,000 team members. We were able to secure 5,000 rolls of toilet paper and 5,000 rolls of paper towels plus bleach and other essentials. We’ve also donated a number of COVID-related items such as gloves, masks and disinfectants. It gets our team excited to know they played a part in helping out.
When the schools shut down, the Collier County School District reached out to us for help with bags, which were needed for the 100,000 meals they provide to kids each week. We donated 100,000 Ace bags to bridge the gap for them.
Our B2B team members are focused on selling products, but they know what to do when they spot a need. We had a nursing home say they needed help with supplies, so we found a way to take care of them. The feedback we got was “If it wasn’t for Tom finding us these supplies we’d be in deep trouble.” When it’s the people who are the most vulnerable it’s a privilege to help out.
The Light It Blue campaign was started on May 6 for National Nurses Day, but it was designed to recognize all first responders and to encourage the community to show their support by displaying blue lights. A local grower partnered with us so first responders could receive care packages. The emotional gratitude you see in these frontline heroes is so uplifting—just being able to help them recharge their batteries with a small token of gratitude goes a long way.
Care packages have been a big theme for us. We helped with care packages for childcare centers for the Salvation Army.
We spent $35,000 for lunches and dinners for our team members, which was aimed at supporting local independent restaurants. We also provided meals to feed a family of four for each of our 400 associates. We had some people in tears when they saw what we did for them, but we were just giving back to the valued associates who kept us afloat. We’ve always done that for our associates who are in need.
Your generosity also extended back to Ace? Ace’s RSC team makes what we do possible. They work hard to get two trucks out a week to us to, so we can keep our stores stocked with what our customers need. As a thank you to our Tampa RSC, we made them a hand-signed Thank You poster with words of appreciation. We also bought lunch for the entire team.
What other ways do you show support to associates? When Hurricane Irma came through in 2017, we set up a foundation with $77,000 to help any team member with unplanned expenses. We spent $40,000 initially to team members who were facing hardship, so we had funds remaining to help out during the pandemic. We want our associates to know we are a big family and we mean it. We’ve got their back, whether it’s a hurricane, cancer or a pandemic—which gives people a sense they’re part of something bigger than them. When the pandemic hit, we couldn’t predict the future but our goal was that anyone who needed a job would have one. We didn’t know if we’d have to shut down or not, but our associates know we stick together.
How do you pivot to maintain safety now that your state has fully reopened? We’ve been very blessed we haven’t had one positive case yet, so our protocols have worked. I can see these cleaning protocols will stay in place in one way or another even after the pandemic ends. I can see temperature checks staying for a while—it’s easy to do and there’s a payoff. Our HR department does illness tracking, so we keep a record of what illness it was and for how long they were out. We’re able to get help to associates when needed.
As long as everyone stays focused on their tasks, we’ll be able to come out of this a stronger company. No matter what, we’re grateful!
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