One of the industries that has seen the most significant change in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic is local grocers. From installing shields to protect customers and employees at the checkout, to limiting purchases and restricting the number of shoppers at one time, grocers have had to keep up with a rapidly changing environment.
Ron’s Supermarket has been a part of the Pittsburg community for many years but has never been through something quite like this.
When the coronavirus pandemic spread to the region, Ron Rhodes, owner of Ron’s Supermarket, said one of their first concerns was the safety and wellbeing of their staff, their families and the customers.
It was decided that the store would stay open but with the focus on keeping everyone healthy, with the installation of plexiglass at the checkout stations, hand sanitizers at the registers and throughout the stores, and decals marking the recommended 6 feet for social distancing on the floor. The store has also increased its cleaning services.
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Ron’s followed advice from the Kansas Food Dealers Association, National Grocers Association and National Retail Federation. Each morning — and sometimes multiple times a day — the organizations shared information on COVID-19, from sanitation to compliance.
“Followed the guidelines and watched lots of webinars,” Rhodes said.
When people realized that they were not going to be able to get out or may be quarantined, they started to do a lot of “heavy buying,” Rhodes said, “from canned goods to dried beans, to pastas — everything to make meals at home. Business was very busy as they stocked their cupboards and filled up knowing they could be restricted to home. Obviously, we went through the lack of bath tissue and other products.”
Reminiscent of the “old fashioned way” of ordering groceries for delivery, there was an increase of people ordering groceries online. Both existing and new customers began ordering online and through telephone for pick-up and delivery. Rhodes said that he was glad online ordering was set up long before the pandemic, as it allowed existing and new customers to have groceries picked up or delivered to their home.
“That was something that went away in the ‘70s and hasn’t been done in a long time,” he said. “Now all of the sudden we are back into doing it.”
With all the shopping some of the items became out of stock, which brought another issue to light. Suppliers were having challenges because the warehouses had a difficulty keeping up with supply, Rhodes said, adding that all grocery stores were experiencing these issues.
Although some items have been spotty, Rhodes said they are continually looking for products to fill the shelves and plan to make announcements when some items are back in stock on the store's Facebook page.
Before recent openings, when several area restaurants closed because of the state orders, their products were sold to the grocery store helping increase some of the stock.
Rhodes said he believes that many of the sanitization and other precautions will continue at various degrees when the pandemic is over.
“I think this has been a real wakeup call for everyone and I think everyone moving forward is going to relax some and be more open and less cautious about social distancing as time goes,” he said. “But I think a lot of the things that we’ve implemented and a lot of the things people do individually to stay safe, I think they will become practices and habits that will continue for a quite while and certainly as we look at predictions for fall recurrence and other things, I think that not only some of the things that we have now will stay in place, I think there will be more things that will come about that I think we can do.”
Outside the store and local community, Rhodes said he thinks that on a national level, there will be more inspections in processing and packing plants.
“As we have moved through this, we’ve always appreciated our staff and our customers and during this time, we’ve grown a much deeper appreciation for our staff. They have really stepped up. They have really volunteered to work extra hours, done extra cleaning — they have been really committed.”
Rhodes applauded his staff and the customers for their kindness and patience, even during times when items were out of stock.
“Our customers have been very patient, very kind, very complimentary and been very good to deal with, so that’s been a very refreshing aspect,” he said.