John Fix III
As hardware retailers, we are all used to serving our communities in whatever way necessary. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought new meaning to that mission, as we find ourselves balancing the need to stay open as an essential business while keeping employees and customers safe. Not surprisingly, dealing with the fast-changing realities of COVID-19 has been a popular topic on Hardlines Digest. Read on to see what retailers were sharing on many aspects of this important topic.
Carrie Dickey of Dickey Bub Farm & Home in Eureka, Mo., wondered if other retailers are offering hazard pay for their team. “We are considering a bonus or a bump in pay,” she said.
Joel Zaske, with two Ace stores in Arizona, said they have bumped staff by $2 per hour, while Paul Giunta of Shore True Value in Somers Point, N.J., said they are buying the staff lunch every day and giving them an in-store credit of $1 for each hour worked.
Alan Talman of Karp’s Hardware in East Northport, N.Y., posted, “Since we have a small team to begin with, and we lost a few of the young kids to parental influence during the crisis, I am putting extra money in everyone’s pay. Since we are doing way more business than usual, in less hours, and with less staff, it is an easy decision for me. I keep telling each person every week that they should save all that money, because we don’t know if we will have to close up shop as things digress.”
Randy Patzer, with two Ace stores in Michigan, said he is giving everyone a $1 per hour bonus that will be added as a bonus, not a change to their hourly rate.
Mitch Haase of Mitch’s Incredible Ace in Plainfield, Ind., said, “We have lost about half of our staff deciding to stay home out of harm’s way. The rest are working and seem happy to do so. There might be a bonus for some of the ones still working, but that will be determined later. For those giving hazard pay increases, I would define what ‘when this is over’ means before implementing.”
Haase added, “Two weeks ago I started buying lunch for my employees every day. It’s not all that much and it is well appreciated by everyone. It shows them how much I care about them and appreciate what they are doing for me and the customers. I will probably do it until the state lifts its stay-at-home order.”
Perry Hahn of Hahn Ace Hardware in Wisconsin sent a letter to his staff that thanked them for their grit and determination during these times and informed them they would be getting an extra 20 percent in their May 8th check for wages earned from March 27 through May 2.
Adjusting Hours/Curbside Service
With most states adopting some form of stay-at-home order and staffing issues starting to crop up, retailers discussed the need to adjust store hours and offer curbside pickup service.
Patzer said, “We have been forced to adjust our hours due to a dwindling number of employees. As we lose more, we shorten our hours some more. We did 10 to 6 and then moved it to 10 to 5.”
Brian Mushel of Justus True Value Home & Garden in Clarks Summit, Pa., said, “This is the reason we went to curbside only. No one is staying home and this will only drag this out longer. We had the busiest days last week and decided to stop allowing customers into the store. Safety and health of our employees comes first. Hardest decision we’ve had to make so far. Worst case is someone in our store gets sick.”
Karla Robson of Slavens True Value in Cortez, Colo., said, “We have been on lockdown for a week now and have not adjusted our hours. We are so busy, both early and late, it is difficult to decide where to cut. We are considering having the employees who live in town close to store take a two-hour lunch and stay late, to maintain hours. We are also considering hiring temp help, some of the laid-off folks who aren’t working right now.”
Hahn noted they have changed staffing and hours at all four of their stores. “We changed our staffing by splitting all of our stores into two employee groups per store. This hopefully protects us if one employee gets infected, we will shut down that group for a period of time and the other group will pick up the hours. This way we have no cross contamination between the two groups, as they are not allowed in the stores on their days off. Each group works the full shift of the day, with a three days on and three days off rotation.”
Jessica Bettencourt of Klems in Spencer, Mass., said they went to curbside only. “Worst/hardest business decision of my life. Sales have plummeted, but people come first.”
Lisa Murphy of Hingham Lumber Co. in Cohasset, Mass., said, “We also had an extremely high volume of people in the store and safety became a huge concern, so we made the switch to curbside only pickup. Our employees are so relieved. Our warehouse remains drive through, but customers may not exit their vehicles and employees maintain social distancing.”
Kevin Evers of Village Do it Best Lumber & Hardware in Leipsic, Ohio, said curbside pickup is working out OK for them. “It takes knowledgeable employees to fill orders. Some customers do not like this, especially the ones that came to the store to browse.”
Diane White of White’s Ace Hardware in Haines City, Fla., posted, “We closed Saturdays and are 8-5 during the week. We all need a break from the stress of trying to be safe. The employees are grateful. It seems as though customers trust us and feel safer in a smaller store than the big boxes.”
Jody Bryan of H. Houst & Son in Woodstock, N.Y., said, “We made the decision earlier in the week to close this weekend and the next, to keep our regular Monday-Friday hours of 8 am-6 pm. It was a difficult choice to make thinking about the missed revenue, but by mid-day Friday I knew this decision was the best one for my staff. I am grateful I am able to do this and to know that all of them are home and getting well-deserved rest and reprieve from the stress.”
Patzer said, “The Michigan governor’s order states that people can purchase to maintain their homes. That loose term encompasses 75 percent of what is in our stores. I am looking at it from both sides. How do we keep our people safe and how do we sell enough to cover our expenses? Profit be damned at the moment. I am just trying to stay alive and come out the other side of this. As long as we have the people and they are comfortable with the procedures we have put in place, then we will remain open to the public. As soon as we lose people to the point where we cannot provide good customer service, then we will go to curbside only. We are down 40 percent of our people at store #1 and 50 percent of our people at store #2. It is at the breaking point right now. One store in our region closed due to staffing issues.”
There was lots of discussion on Hardlines about the programs available from the government such as expanded unemployment, Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the CARES Act.
Brandon Buckalew of East Grand Forks Hardware Hank in Minnesota professed to being thoroughly confused by the various programs. “There are so many scenarios and I have so many questions. I have commercial accounts that are panic buying right now, so my numbers aren’t so bad, but in a month or two they aren’t going to be very good because they’ll be stocked up. My banker suggested waiting to apply for these, but there’s a fine line between waiting a long enough time to show the most injury and the programs running out of money,” he said.
Chris Finethy of Gilford True Value in Gilford, N.H., posted, “Half the staff at our lumberyard quit, because they realized they could make more money unemployed. Contractors realized one of their main overhead expenses (labor) is going to be paid for for the next couple months. We signed up for the payroll loan, but have half the employees as last year. The thing that blows my mind is you could have run the worst business ever and still be bailed out.”
Giunta said, “We are struggling with this as well. We sent in the application this morning, but our bank said the SBA is not ready. More confusion!”
Bob Brame at Cadiz Ace Hardware in Kentucky said, “Our bank called us yesterday and sent their link so we would be in line for PPP. I didn’t even know about it. It took me about 30 minutes. VP of bank sent me a note saying we got it. That is a good thing about good local banks—you are on a first-name basis, your kids or grandkids play on the same Little League team and people don’t change often.”
Patzer posted, “The way I think it is set up, an employee cannot get unemployment if you are still open and they were not sent home by you. So if they want to shelter at home without reason, they do not get to claim. I have two valid claims and one invalid one at the moment. This is all very confusing, to say the least.”
Mobile POS/Text Service
Retailers on Hardlines were interested in what other dealers were doing about mobile POS and receiving orders and messages with a text service.
Ruth Meredith of McDonald Garden Center in Virginia Beach, Va., noted, “Square and Clover Go are standalone systems that you can use on a mobile device, and then just finalize the transaction in POS under an Alternate Tender.”
Patzer added, “We have a standalone credit card machine that is wired to ethernet or phone. Then we added Square as a cellular solution. Their box takes chip or NFC and there is a plug-in for swipe. No monthly charge and it deposits to the bank of your choice. They do charge about 1 percent more to process, so there is a cost. Next, we purchased a cellular standalone unit that works great and takes all forms of payment. However, this too has a monthly fee for the cellular support.”
Tom McKeithen at McKeithen’s True Value in Statesboro, Ga., wondered if mobile POS puts you at higher risk for fraud. “I have been burned a couple of times taking card info over the phone, so we no longer do that. But what about no signature?”
Meredith responded, “According to my processor, if you are set up as a retail store and you accept a chip card and do not dip it in a machine for the authorization, it doesn’t matter if you have a signature or not, you are still liable for the chargeback if something happens. We are currently doing curbside service where orders are processed over the phone, but we are getting ready to switch that over to our website for the credit card authorization, since that one is set up as e-commerce rather than a physical retail store. Supposedly, we have more protection against chargebacks.”
Dickey wondered if other retailers have a phone number set up for customers to text them.
Amy Earls of Page Hardware in Guildford, Conn., replied, “We have been using Instaply for two years. It allows customers to text the store and have multiple users respond. Pictures can be sent back and forth, too.”
Jason Haley of Ace Hardware of Clarkston has been using Sideline. “It works flawlessly and is $10 per month. All of our team has the app and when a text comes in one calls over the radio that they have it. It works great with curbside.”
John Fix started the Hardlines Digest in 1996. The list was run for many years using servers in John’s hardware store, but the list has migrated to Google Groups. There are currently more than 2,300 subscribers reading Hardlines Digest. To read more or subscribe, go to www.hardlinesdigest.com.