Features

How the Hardware Industry is Coping with the COVID-19 Pandemic—Part I

By Chris Jensen

Coronavirus (COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by a new virus. There currently is no vaccine to prevent coronavirus.»

It is not possible to overstate the impact the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has been having on everyone in the world, as it is causing fear and massive disruption to everyday life. As of March 31, more than 250 million Americans in 30 states and 31 cities had been told to stay home, creating a high degree of social isolation that threatens the viability of businesses of all sizes in many industries.

The coronavirus pandemic has surpassed 803,000 cases worldwide and spread to 200 countries and territories, with more than 39,000 deaths. In the United States, there were more than 164,000 confirmed cases and 3,177 deaths as of March 31. The first case in the U.S. was reported on January 20.

If there is a sliver of good news in a world filled with horrifying news, it is the fact that hardware stores and lumber and building material businesses are being classified as “essential businesses” and allowed to remain open when states issue a stay-at-home order. Rattled consumers are rushing to hardware stores in search of masks, hand sanitizer and cleaning wipes, only to discover supplies are short or non-existent.

Retailers such as Tweedy and Popp Hardware in Seattle place limits on high-demand items like hand wipes and sanitizer.
Retailers such as Tweedy and Popp Hardware in Seattle place limits on high-demand items like hand wipes and sanitizer.»

After the state of Washington emerged as an initial hotspot for cases, New York City quickly became the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, with the tri-state area accounting for roughly half the cases in the country. So far, 76,000 doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers have come out of retirement to help New York City deal with the surge of coronavirus cases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a travel advisory urging residents of New York, Connecticut and New Jersey to refrain from non-essential domestic travel for 14 days.

LBM outlets in New York have another obstacle to face, as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has ordered a temporary halt to all nonessential construction projects in the state.

New hotspots are emerging in Los Angeles, New Orleans, Chicago, Miami, Detroit and Indianapolis, as increased levels of testing reveal ever-expanding numbers of people testing positive. Heroes in every walk of life are rising up to take on this challenge, and hardware retailers are playing important roles in their communities.

For some retailers, the pandemic is becoming all too real. Moynihan Lumber in Beverly, Mass., has closed its hardware section and is restricting business to delivery only after an employee recently tested positive for coronavirus. For more details, click here.

Read on to learn how hardware and home improvement retailers are coping with the COVID-19 pandemic and finding new ways to serve their communities, and how wholesalers and manufacturers are stepping up to help retailers and communities stay in stock during these challenging times.

To learn more about the coronavirus (COVID-19) including symptoms and how to protect yourself, go to the website for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), www.cdc.gov or the World Health Organization, www.who.int.


How Retailers Are Adjusting

To cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, many retailers have had to restrict store access to customers and staff, change store hours and adopt new policies. The situation is fluid, as more states introduce stay-at-home orders.

“At this point, we are still doing well and are open to help our community,” said Dave Warren of Dave’s Ace Hardware in Milton, Wis. He said he has not had to limit access to his stores or staff yet and has been able to maintain full staffing for the most part, although this interview was conducted a few days before Wisconsin’s governor issued a stay-at-home order that took effect March 25.

“I’ve made it very clear to associates that if they feel ill, they need to let me know and stay or go home. We have a contingency plan to reduce store hours if sickness or quarantine is too severe,” Warren said.

Jason and Melanie Haley operate Ace Hardware of Clarkston in Mich., where their store motto of “Neighbors Serving Neighbors” now takes on new meaning.
Jason and Melanie Haley operate Ace Hardware of Clarkston in Mich., where their store motto of “Neighbors Serving Neighbors” now takes on new meaning.»

“We met with the entire team one on one and gave them the option to not work,” said Jason Haley, co-owner of Ace Hardware of Clarkston (Mich.) with his wife, Melanie. “Three people who are in their mid-70s said, yes, that sounds like a plan, and we will be eager for them to be back when this passes. The rest of the team said we are standing here with you to serve our neighbors.”

Haley added, “Yes, these are indeed challenging times, but we have taken an approach of trying to remind our community of the good and the hope. We have had unbelievable coming together in this community and despite uncertainty we have incredible hope.”

Willis Qualheim of Qualheim’s True Value in Shawano, Wis., let employees know their health and safety is the top priority and their jobs and pay are not at risk.
Willis Qualheim of Qualheim’s True Value in Shawano, Wis., let employees know their health and safety is the top priority and their jobs and pay are not at risk.»

“We haven’t restricted any store access yet, but we will do what we need to in the near future to ensure we are protecting ourselves and the community,” said Willis Qualheim of Qualheim’s True Value in Shawano, Wis., on March 21. “If that means putting precautionary measures into place such as only allowing so many customers into the store at a time, cutting down on hours open, cutting down on our staff or having our people wear safety gear, we will do so.”

Qualheim added, “We are still running at full staff. A lot of these people live paycheck to paycheck, and I will pay them for as long as I can to support them. We have put out a memo for our employees to make them aware that their safety is of our utmost concern and that their job and pay are not in jeopardy, if for some reason they need to self-quarantine or are mandated to do so. We had already posted that we would pay them for up to 14 days without touching their PTO if required to self-quarantine, even before the government announced the reimbursements.”

John Blair, vice president/business manager of Occidental Hardware in Occidental, Calif., said they shortened their hours and now close at 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday instead of 6 p.m. “This allows us to run with one shift and for everyone to get a bit more rest. We have been busy and our staff is tired,” he said in a post on Hardlines Digest. “We will adjust our hours as needed based on our sales and our employees’ needs. We are trying to anticipate needs and keep products in stock.”

With the number of cases skyrocketing in New York City, Mazzone Hardware and Paint Centers temporarily closed its Rockaway Park location on March 23 for the day due to staffing concerns. Owner Matt Mazzone’s main location in Brooklyn remained open, although with restrictions on the number of customers coming into the store.

Mazzone posted on Facebook to urge customers to consolidate their purchasing to reduce visits, consider using credit cards instead of cash, maintain a six-foot social distance as they interact, consider calling first so the store can collect items in advance, not come to the store if they are sick, and order online for in-store pickup or delivery.

Robin Smith of Petersburg Do it Best Hardware in Petersburg, Ind., noted that Indiana Governor Holcomb released the stay-at-home mandate for all Hoosiers at noon on March 23. “We had an idea this was coming, so we met with our staff last week. We are now closing at 6 p.m. through the week to give employees an hour to deep clean each evening.”

Smith added, “We normally operate business with nine full-time and four part-time employees. This week started our new schedule. We split our team into two teams. One team works Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. The second team works Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Because of the essential nature of our business, our employees committed to each team staying separate from each other, as well as staying home when not working. Our team has come together even more than usual to support our community.”

Bill Pastermack of Ace Hardware Titusville (Fla.) said, “We are considering all sorts of scenarios like cutting store hours and limiting the number of people in the store at one time,” he said. “If people have to stay home, they will spend more money on their home and yard.”

Bill and Yesenia Pastermack, who operate two Ace Hardware stores in Titusville, Fla., say they have a lot of key items on back order.
Bill and Yesenia Pastermack, who operate two Ace Hardware stores in Titusville, Fla., say they have a lot of key items on back order.»

Pastermack has been able to maintain full staffing, but he is concerned about his older employees. “All have said they want to keep working. We will be open as long as we can be. One of my biggest fears is an employee gets sick,” he added.

Pastermack noted that he and his wife Yesenia will have to temporarily close their surf shop in Titusville, Go Native, which sells surf boards and beach attire. “Sales are down significantly for that business. No one wants to buy flip flops during a pandemic,” he said.

Brian Webb of Krueger’s True Value in Neenah, Wis., said they have reduced weekday hours to close at 6 p.m. instead of 8 p.m. “We contemplated closing even earlier on weekdays, but felt we needed to keep our part-time evening associates on the schedule. We did not wish to risk losing them as employees if we needed them at a later date. Thus far, the reduction of hours has been well received by both customers and associates alike,” Webb said in a posting on Hardlines Digest.

McLendon Hardware, with seven stores in Washington state, has assigned “social distancing managers” at each location to handle the safety and cleanliness of the location. These individuals will also ensure safe customer flows throughout the location and be available to assist customers with shopping. McLendon is also consistently updating store layouts and fixtures to accommodate six feet of space for customers to shop comfortably.

Retailers that were not previously reporting staffing issues are now facing new challenges. For example, in Michigan essential businesses that are allowed to remain open like hardware stores are being asked to restrict the number of workers present on premises to no more than is strictly necessary to perform the business’ critical infrastructure functions.

Some retailers in Michigan report that essential businesses such as hardware stores are being asked to conduct a daily screening of all employees to ensure they are healthy before being allowed to work.

Dave and Kathy Barone, owners of Barone Hardware & Auto in Bronson, Mich., announced on March 28 that they were adopting a policy to restrict shopping to individuals only. See their Facebook post here.

Home Depot stores are now closing at 6 p.m. daily to allow time for thorough cleaning and restocking. For a complete overview of how Home Depot is preparing and responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, click here.

Lowe’s is also temporarily reducing hours to close stores at 8:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday and at 7 p.m. on Sunday to allow cleaning and restocking. The big-box retailer is also committing $100 million to support associates and the communities it serves. For a complete overview of Lowe’s response, click here.

How is Business?

In looking at sales trends as February turned to March, many retailers were not posting strong winter sales, because it had been a mild winter in most areas of the country.

March has been a different story. Although some retailers have seen a dip in sales as customers put routine purchases on hold, a significant number are seeing very strong sales. Hardware retailers have never sold so much toilet paper.

“As of March 19, our March sales are up 25 percent and customer count is up 12 percent. No unusual trends at this time except for safety and cleaning supplies,” said Warren at Dave’s Ace.

Dave’s Ace in Milton, Wis., uses this sign to alert customers to proper social distancing and safety procedures, and they have also installed a counter guard at the checkout.
Dave’s Ace in Milton, Wis., uses this sign to alert customers to proper social distancing and safety procedures, and they have also installed a counter guard at the checkout.»

“In Michigan, February was flat because we were up against a huge storm last year, but when you pulled that out we saw a huge increase in virus supplies,” said Haley at Ace Hardware of Clarkston. “March has been its own unique phenomenon. Of course, virus supplies when we have them have sold well and quickly, but we are seeing people homestead and our barbecue, paint and gift sales are up well over 100 percent in those areas. For the month we are up 35 percent in sales and 19 percent in traffic.”

A look at the top-selling categories for Ace Hardware of Clarkston reveals the expected—hand cleaner up 5,936 percent, safety equipment up 885 percent—as well as surprises—paper lawn leaf bags up 1,176 percent, grills and BBQ up 159 percent, LED light bulbs up 109 percent, Ace paint up 47 percent and candy/foods up 42 percent.

“You quickly see the real story is not the virus supplies, it’s people saying, ‘I am home for a while. I am going to invest in my home.’ The numbers say so much—even looking at candy being up 42 percent we can see anxiety creating the need for comfort food and sweets,” Haley added.

Qualheim at Qualheim’s True Value said, “Customer flow continues to be normal and steady so far. The only unusual purchasing trends we are seeing so far are the toilet paper, face masks and cleaning supplies. Paint and plumbing sales are up. We’re seeing people painting and doing other projects since they are somewhat confined to their homes. We are limiting two per customer for high-demand products.”

“For us, we have actually seen a rise in our daily sales. We are acquiring more animal feed customers and seeing new faces shopping. Of course, we have ran out of toilet paper and disinfectants, but our shelves have remained full for additional needs. Do it Best has done great in communicating lead times and fulfillments with us,” said Smith at Petersburg Do it Best Hardware.

“Business has been really good this month. Besides cleaning supplies and gloves, people are just buying a lot of stuff,” noted Pastermack at Ace Hardware Titusville.

Randy Rusk, communications director for Do it Best Corp., said while the co-op is experiencing record volume, it is not just cleaning supplies, coveralls and masks driving the sales. “We are seeing the drivers of shelter-in-place purchasing be paint, paint products and kitchen and cooking products. People have to do something, so they’re working on their yard or painting the house, things you can do without risk,” Rusk said.

With kids out of school, activities and projects to keep them busy are proving popular, Rusk added, such as family craft products and sidewalk chalk. “Our members have to balance not wanting to look like they are capitalizing on tragedy, with pointing out projects that get the whole family involved in home activity,” he said.

Stimulus Package Passed

On March 27, the House of Representatives approved a $2 trillion stimulus package. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Securities Act (CARES) is designed to assist American citizens and businesses that are affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The bill passed the Senate 96-0 and was signed by President Trump.

The stark disruption to the economy caused by the COVID-19 pandemic was reflected in the record unemployment claims of 3.28 million announced March 26. The previous record for jobless claims was 695,000 in October 1982.

To address the rising number of jobless Americans, the stimulus package would greatly expand the unemployment safety net. On top of state benefits, jobless workers would receive an extra $600 every week for four months.

In addition to issuing $1,200 checks to all adults who earn up to $75,000, plus $500 per child, the stimulus package includes two loan programs to assist businesses.

Employers and self-employed individuals will be able to defer the 6.2 percent tax on wages used to fund Social Security. The deferred payroll tax would have to be paid back in two parts: half by the end of 2021 and the other half by the end of 2022.

Retailers, along with hotels and restaurants, will be able to take immediate tax deductions for improvements made to their properties.

The Treasury Department will oversee a $500 billion loan program that not only assists airlines, states and cities, it would also offer direct loan guarantees to mid-sized businesses (between 500 and 10,000 employees). Businesses would not have to make any payments on the loans for the first six months.

Businesses would also get a tax credit for keeping idled workers on the payroll, if they can prove they took a 50 percent loss compared to the same quarter in prior years. Businesses would get a refund for half of what they spend on wages, up to $5,000 per worker.

A total of $349 billion would be made available to be loaned to small businesses through the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). It would use the SBA’s existing 7(a) loan program framework. The SBA is also offering low-interest Economic Injury Disaster Loans for small businesses that meet the qualifications.

For more information on the stimulus package, click here.

For more information on the SBA loan programs, click here.

Dealing with Product Shortages

While retailers around the country have found it challenging to get products in demand such as masks, gloves and cleaning supplies, they have also adjusted their buying for less essential items.

“It has been a real challenge. We’ve had to source bleach from our local grocery store and masks and hand sanitizer from a local vendor of ours. I actually had a friend who owns a clothing factory in Mexico make facemasks for us to sell,” said Warren.

Sebo's Do it Center in Clinton, Wash., was able to source disposable gloves from a restaurant/catering supply company.
Sebo’s Do it Center in Clinton, Wash., was able to source disposable gloves from a restaurant/catering supply company. »

Another retailer that found a solution through an alternative source of supply is Sebo’s Do it Center in Clinton, Wash. They were facing the same challenge as every other retailer still open and deemed an essential business in their community—sourcing disposable gloves. However, a chance encounter and some quick thinking helped them get a great in-stock position. It seems a friend in the restaurant/catering supply business was sitting on a large inventory of gloves that weren’t moving because of all the restaurant closures. A deal was struck and the store now has an ample supply for the community.

It is very hard to get the virus supplies, reported Haley. “We have placed stock reserve back orders at Ace for about 50k worth of product. If we get half of that we will be lucky. Fill rates are crashing and burning from the vendors to Ace. We have deliberately increased inventory depth by one week of sales across the entire store, as we believe a fight for basic inventory that was coming from China will occur. We are blessed to have the necessary cash to make that investment,” he said.

Haley added, “We believe and are seeing that people are going to invest in their homes, so we are actually going deeper, not thinner. Of course, if we have a catastrophic economic collapse we may regret not hoarding more cash, but we believe those with the most inventory will win the battle.”

Qualheim noted, “As time goes on it is getting harder and harder to get products in demand. We were able to get some face masks and toilet paper on an emergency order through our RDC. All of the N95 masks we received went to our local hospital after we received a call from them asking for any that we could procure. They are unable to get enough masks as well as other protective gear. In fact, they just reached out to us to see if we can get any safety face shields. Not sure when I will get those. We also got lucky and had a vendor call us to see if we wanted hand sanitizer and face masks. We will be having several thousand come in this week.”

Smith at Petersburg Hardware said the in-demand virus items have been out of stock, and they have been ordering pretty normal based on the departments they are selling. “We have bumped up our feed orders to prepare. We placed a two-month order last week and have already needed to place an additional order,” she said.

Pastermack said it has been very challenging and almost impossible to get the in-demand virus items. “There are so many back orders for disinfectants and cleaning wipes. In Florida, we’re used to getting prepared for hurricanes, but this is a global pandemic and everybody wants these products. I’ve been worrying about the supply channel since January. I knew warehouses would run out so I bumped up my order points, but I don’t have room for three months’ supply,” he said.

With customers desperate for in-demand virus items like masks, retailers face greater scrutiny for their pricing methods. Menards has been issued a cease-and-desist letter concerning alleged price gouging in Wisconsin. Click here for details.

Retailers also have to evaluate their return policies for regular and virus items. Not only do they want to discourage customers from returning hoarded products after the pandemic slows down, there is the issue of safety if an employee handles an item that might carry the virus on its surface. As a result, some dealers are placing return items in totes for a three-day holding period. Target has temporarily banned returns and exchanges until April 16.

Keeping Stores Sanitized

Petersburg Do it Best Hardware in Petersburg, Ind., put in a hand-washing station in the front of the store.
Petersburg Do it Best Hardware in Petersburg, Ind., put in a hand-washing station in the front of the store.»

To ensure customers feel safe while shopping, retailers are having to develop new procedures for cleaning and sanitizing their stores.

Petersburg Do it Best Hardware built a hand-washing station outside their front door for customers with a huge sign asking for everyone to simply wash their hands before entering. “We had a line as soon as it was hooked up. Of course, there are some customers that do not use it, but 95 percent do,” Smith said.

She added, “Our employees are constantly wiping commonly used surfaces. We are also using hand sanitizer after every transaction with a customer. We have made gloves available for employees. Each evening we are deep cleaning most surfaces that get touched in a day. We fortunately still have some disinfectants for store use and bottles of bleach if necessary.”

David Bohl of Kibler Lumber, a Century Club retailer with four Do it Best stores in Ohio, is proactively installing plexiglass shields at the checkout counter to create a safety barrier between customers and frontline staff.

“We saved disinfecting wipe, hand sanitizer and disinfectant spray for store use before we were wiped out. Our cashiers clean high-touch areas four or five times a day,” said Warren, who also installed a counter guard to give cashiers some distance from customers.

Haley said they are cleaning counters and pin pads after almost every customer and cleaning carts several times a day “We are cleaning everything else we can think of multiple times a day. We are using a mix of bleach and water per CDC guidelines, as wipes are non- existent. The store smells like a hospital and customers are commenting and appreciating,” he said.

David Bohl of Kibler Lumber installed plexiglass shields at the checkout counter to create a safety barrier between customers and frontline staff. A sign informs customers to stay behind the blue and yellow line.
David Bohl of Kibler Lumber installed plexiglass shields at the checkout counter to create a safety barrier between customers and frontline staff. A sign informs customers to stay behind the blue and yellow line.»

Haley added, “Local hardware stores are putting so much emphasis on cleaning, it’s very interesting that our local grocers are making no mention of it and you certainly do not see the practices there that we have in our store.”

Qualheim said they are now sanitizing all door handles, door knobs, registers, credit card machines, keyboards, time clock, counters, bathroom fixtures and anything else that people might come in contact with every two hours. “We were able to get a good supply of gallons of isopropyl alcohol through a farm supply distributor, and we are mixing that with an antibacterial cleaner,” he said.

“We’re basically using paper towels and Pine-Sol® or Clorox® in a spray bottle. Shopping cart handles are sanitized before we hand to the customer. Counters are wiped down at least three times a day—same with all the surfaces in the bathrooms,” said Pastermack.

Sullivan Do it Best Hardware & Garden in Indianapolis is one of many retailers now offering curbside pickup service.
Sullivan Do it Best Hardware & Garden in Indianapolis is one of many retailers now offering curbside pickup service.»

Offering Curbside Service

Even though hardware retailers have been designated as essential businesses and allowed to remain open in states and cities where stay-at-home orders are in place, they have had to adapt by offering curbside pickup service and expanded delivery service. Some are even offering no-contact service, so customers can get what they need while spending little if any time in the store.

Rick Torres, owner of Freret Hardware & Paint in the hard-hit city of New Orleans, has revisited the solution he used when Hurricane Katrina hit the city and flooded his store in 2005. He closed the store and set up a tent and table outside. When a customer needs something, Torres or an employee goes into the store and retrieves it, enabling everyone to practice social distancing. “It’s working. People are cooperative,” Torres said. To see a news video on Freret Hardware’s innovative solution, click here.

“We posted on Facebook that if a customer doesn’t want to come into the store, they can order online and then call us and we’ll do curbside service,” said Pastermack at Ace Hardware Titusville.

Haley remarked, “It may just be our market, but our customers have not jumped on Buy Online Pick Up in Store or delivery. We have been promoting it and they just trust us to keep the store safe. Several have said if I have to go to the grocery, I might as well come here and just use Purell before and after.”

“We are offering this (curbside service) to our customers. Our county is still fortunate to not have a positive case (as of March 23), so customers are not fully utilizing it. We have enforced social distancing as much as possible. If need be, we have several people that are committed to porch deliveries and able to take orders/payments over the phone,” said Smith at Petersburg Hardware.

In addition to introducing same-day curbside pickup and free local delivery, Leigh Ann Akard of Akard True Value Hardware in Zionsville, Ind., temporarily adjusted her store hours. Regular store hours are now 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., with 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. now reserved for seniors and friends with heightened risks.

Staying Connected Through Social Media

With many Americans forced to work from home or shelter in place, social media has emerged as a primary way for hardware retailers to stay in touch with customers.

T&M Hardware and Rental posts pictures on Facebook to let customers know they have the critical items they need.
T&M Hardware and Rental posts pictures on Facebook to let customers know they have the critical items they need.»

When shelter-in-place orders were issued for Ohio and Pennsylvania, T&M Hardware & Rental (with five Do it Best stores in Pennsylvania and one in Ohio) came up with a great way to bring customers into their freshly stocked stores while still adhering to state safety directives. Using Facebook Live, Samantha Post reached out to their followers to highlight T&M’s extensive offerings with a virtual tour. Click here to view this video.

Markle Do it Best Hardware in Markle, Ind., now hosts a community pantry, establishing the store as a one-stop shop for essential items. Owner Mark Schaufelberger posted a picture on the store Facebook page encouraging local residents to stop in and grab groceries generously donated by the community, “just neighbors helping neighbors.”

Markle Do it Best Hardware in Markle, Ind., has opened a community food pantry.
Markle Do it Best Hardware in Markle, Ind., has opened a community food pantry.»

Akard at Akard True Value Hardware started a Hand Wash Song Challenge on Facebook as a fun way to get the community to practice good hygiene.

Kent Schaper of Arrowhead Hardware in Baldwin City, Kan., posted on Facebook March 19 that his store would serve as a drop-off-pickup spot for local farm products such as eggs for those who cannot travel. All exchanges would take place during Arrowhead’s business hours, with arrangements made between the farmer and the consumer.

Haley at Ace Hardware of Clarkston gives his customers a daily briefing on Facebook and Instagram. “It’s amazing the response we are getting from folks,” he says. “We absolutely believe right now our number one job is to share our hope and good with the community and that together we will take care of one another and this will be the best year we have ever had.” To view his video message from March 29, click here.

Rob Walker of New Palestine Hardware in New Palestine, Ind., provided regular updates on Facebook when his store received shipments of masks, gloves, toilet paper and cleaning products, with Walker sharing pictures and video of the displays.

Melaco Sisters Hardware & Supply in Cut Off, La., posted social distancing instructions for the community on Facebook. Click here to view. The store’s Facebook page has also been a good source for home/family craft projects and activities kids can do while home from school.

Here are examples of COVID-19 messages shared by hardware and LBM retailers with their communities:

• Woodstock Do it Best Hardware, Woodstock, N.Y.—click here

• Costello’s Ace Hardware, Deer Park, N.Y.—click here

• Sunshine Ace Hardware, Naples, Fla.—click here

• McLendon Hardware, Renton, Wash.—click here

• L. Sweet Lumber, Providence, R.I.—click here

Offering Sick Leave

The COVID-19 pandemic has many hardware and home improvement retailers concerned about staffing issues. Willis Qualheim of Qualheim True Value in Shawano, Wis., said if one of his employees is feeling sick, he wants them to stay home and quarantine for 14 days.

“If they have come in contact with someone who has COVID-19 or believe they have it, they need to self-quarantine and will be provided with their standard average pay during the investigation stage,” he said.

Qualheim adds, “If they need to remain on leave for an extended period of time due to being COVID-19 positive, we will work with them on extended pay or unemployment benefits. These policies may change as decisions from our government are rapidly changing and we are waiting to see what type of government support there will be.”

“We do offer sick days and vacation time that could be used for any of our full-time staff. Should things get bad, I will likely provide some sick time to part timers, too,” said Warren.

Smith said, “We have made it clear to employees that if they feel sick or worried to stay home. We will do our best to support financially as well as hold their job. We will also aid them in navigating any financial support the government agrees on to get the best outcome for both parties involved.”

Some retailers are concerned that staffing issues may accelerate when the new paid leave program kicks in April 1. One California retailer said if enough employees go out on paid leave, he may have to temporarily close a few stores.

American workers can now qualify for 12 weeks of family leave and an additional two weeks of paid sick leave during the coronavirus pandemic, thanks to a new federal law signed by President Trump on March 18.

The “Families First Coronavirus Response Act” takes effect April 1 and runs through December 31, 2020. It establishes a federal emergency paid leave benefits program to provide payments to employees taking unpaid leave due to the coronavirus outbreak. It requires employers with fewer than 500 workers to offer new and expanded benefits.

The bill includes the following provisions:

• Paid Sick Leave: Employers with over 50 employees and under 500 employees are required to grant two weeks (80 hours) of paid sick leave for workers dealing with the coronavirus.

• Requires employers to grant two weeks (80 hours) paid sick leave immediately

• Covers COVID-19 related issues, such as workers experiencing symptoms, seeking medical diagnosis, quarantine, caring for quarantined family members, or caring for children due to school or daycare closures due to coronavirus.

• Exempts large employers with over 500 workers.

• Exempts small employers with under 50 workers.

• Includes part-time workers, who receive pay based on average weekly hours worked.

For more information, click here.

Wholesalers Offer Support

As shelter-in-place orders started to be introduced around the country, it was critical for hardware and LBM stores to be designated as “essential businesses,” enabling them to stay open and provide much-needed supplies to their communities.

The president/CEOs of seven leading co-ops, buying groups and wholesalers—Ace Hardware, Do it Best, Orgill, True Value, PRO Group, Distribution America and Home Hardware—joined NRHA in signing a letter that urged federal, state and local governments to designate home improvement stores as essential businesses to keep communities safe and secure.

Do it Best designed a graphic for its members to use on Facebook which states, “We are an essential business! We’re here to serve your needs.” With the hashtag #WEREINTHISTOGETHER, Do it Best shared the message that its stores were committed to staying open and ready to serve customers, offering new services like home delivery, curbside pickup and free ship-to-store, while behind the scenes Do it Best is keeping warehouses open to get delivery trucks to local Do it Best stores.

Do it Best Corp. President and CEO Dan Starr sent a letter to vendor partners on March 24, thanking them for their commitment to keeping the co-op in stock. “The coming weeks will be even more critical for us to collaborate on further strengthening our supply chain so that we can continue to meet the increased demand. To read the full letter, click here.

Ace President John Venhuizen also sent a letter to vendors, saying in part: “Because hardware stores have been declared essential…you are essential! Our communities need Ace and Ace needs you. I’m well aware of the operational pressures this crisis has placed upon you. And of course the protection, health and safety of our and your people is priority number one. My note is designed to convey, in as strong of a voice as I can muster, that you are an essential part of an essential supply chain. I’m asking for support from the top, steady supply and continued shipments that are on-time and in-full so we can collectively fulfill our essential mission.”

To view a statement from Orgill on how they are establishing safety and social distancing protocols, addressing supply chain issues, and communicating with staff and customers, click here.

True Value Company announced on March 31 that it is registered with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as an over-the-counter drug manufacturer to produce hand sanitizer in response to the current COVID-19 pandemic.

The wholesaler has a large paint manufacturing facility in Cary, Ill., that is converting part of its space to begin the production of hand sanitizer and cleaning products to help aid in the nationwide shortage.

The plant will ramp up production of tens of thousands of gallons of hand sanitizer, with the first several thousand gallons donated to True Value hardware stores across the country to arm its employees against contracting COVID-19 while they serve customers. The product is scheduled to be shipped to stores in early to mid-April.

As the company sources more raw materials, it plans to quickly increase production to help ease the public’s need. In addition to hand sanitizer, the company is also manufacturing essential cleaning and sanitizing products such as hand soap, all-purpose cleansers with and without bleach, and degreasing cleanser. These products are quickly being produced to meet retailers’ demand to help keep their stores a safe shopping environment for customers.

“In state after state, hardware stores have been declared ‘essential’ and permitted to stay open,” said John Hartmann, president and CEO of True Value Company. “From hand sanitizer to tools and home maintenance products to farm and ranch items, local hardware stores play a critical role in keeping homes and communities up and running. During these unprecedented times, we’re proud to do our part to help make a difference and get the much-coveted hand sanitizer onto True Value store shelves as quickly as we can.”

Industry Events Postponed

The immediate impact of this health crisis has been the cancellation of key trade events. Ace Hardware’s Spring Convention, scheduled for March 12-14 in Chicago, was canceled and replaced with a digital convention. Blish-Mize did the same, putting on a virtual convention that lasted March 19-31.

The International Hardware Fair in Cologne, Germany, originally set for March 1-4, has been moved to February 21-24 in 2021. The International Housewares Association’s Inspired Home Show, scheduled for March 14-17 in Chicago, was postponed until next year, March 13-16. The National Hardware Show, originally scheduled for May 5-7, was postponed and rescheduled for September 1-3, 2020.

Also canceled were Home Hardware’s spring market, the National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association’s spring meeting and legislative conference, and the annual convention and expo of the Lumbermen’s Association of Texas.

The Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Expo took place as scheduled March 12-14 in New Orleans. On March 19, the show’s organizer, the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association (HPBA) released this statement:

“We’ve learned that there were presumptive cases of COVID-19 at HPBExpo in New Orleans. Due to privacy considerations, we cannot release the names of the individuals. We currently do not know whether these individuals had symptoms at the Expo or whether they attended during the COVID-19 incubation period. We are sharing this information out of an abundance of caution and urge all to monitor your symptoms. We are also in contact with the relevant health authorities to provide them with this information and to obtain further guidance.”

Key Vendors Step Up

Perhaps no manufacturer has been in the spotlight more than 3M, which makes critical masks and respirators desperately needed by healthcare workers and in demand by those in affected areas. 3M Chairman and CEO Mike Roman shared the following message on March 22:

“3M has a unique and critical responsibility in pandemic preparedness and response—a responsibility I and all our people take very seriously. Our most urgent priority is the safety of our employees, healthcare workers and the public.

Since the initial COVID-19 outbreak, we’ve ramped up to maximum production levels of N95 respirators and doubled our global output to a rate of more than 1.1 billion per year, or nearly 100 million per month. In the United States we are producing 35 million respirators per month; of these, more than 90% are now designated for healthcare workers, with the remaining deployed to other industries also critical in this pandemic, including energy, food and pharmaceutical companies. As a global company, we also manufacture respirators in Europe, Asia and Latin America, and our products are being similarly deployed to support the COVID-19 response in those respective regions.

Like everyone, I see the pleas from our heroic doctors, nurses and first responders for the respirators and other equipment they desperately need. I want people to know we are doing all we can to meet the demands of this extraordinary time and get supplies from our plants to where they’re most needed as quickly as possible. As I write this, more than 500,000 respirators are on the way from our South Dakota plant to two of the more critically impacted areas, New York and Seattle, with arrivals expected starting tomorrow. We are also ready to expedite additional shipments across the country.

While 3M is currently operating at maximum production, we have accelerated investments to expand our global capacity even more. We anticipate being able to nearly double our capacity again, to almost 2 billion respirators globally, within the next 12 months. We are working with the U.S. and other governments, investigating alternate manufacturing scenarios, and exploring coalitions with other companies to increase capacity further. We’ve also maximized production of a wide range of other solutions being used in the response, including hand sanitizers and disinfectants.

To read more of the letter, click here.

Another key vendor that has been praised by President Trump is Honeywell. On March 22, Honeywell announced that it will immediately expand its manufacturing operations in Smithfield, R.I., to produce N95 face masks in support of the U.S. government’s response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

“We are honored to support the U.S. government’s efforts to protect Americans with personal protective equipment made right here in the United States,” said Darius Adamczyk, Honeywell chairman and CEO. “Our Rhode Island facility already produces industry-leading safety gear and soon will play a critical role in supplying the strategic national stockpile with N95 masks.”

Honeywell anticipates that the addition of the new mask production line in Smithfield will create at least 500 new jobs. The company will begin recruiting, hiring and training manufacturing workers immediately.

The N95 face masks will be delivered to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to contribute to the American stockpile for use to support health, safety and emergency response workers.

Honeywell’s production expansion will support additional American businesses that are part of the supply chain, including industrial equipment providers and raw materials suppliers. The company is also actively collaborating with state and local officials to ramp up production efforts and support recruiting and training for workers.

Look for Part II of our Special Report on April 15!

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