With COVID-19, how anyone goes shopping has changed dramatically.
Masks are encouraged, if not required, at all stores; carts are sanitized before being put back in rotation; and barriers and signs have been implemented to keep individuals physically distanced from others. For large chains, the cost and changes can be encumbered on a larger scale with fewer issues. But for locally owned stores, the changes have been difficult.
At Kindred Market, many changes have been implemented in order to keep the staff and customers safe.
“We’re meeting the new reality,” said Valerie Kinnard. Kindred Market is run by the Kinnard family, with Valerie acting as the Chief Financial Officer for the most part.
Employees at Kindred must meet several criteria to be allowed to work on any given day, including having a temperature of under 100 degrees while not feeling ill or displaying any symptoms of illness; wearing masks and gloves at all times; and using laser pointers to show where items are located in order to stay further away from other staff members and customers.
Kinnard noted that even the initial ways they started combatting the spread of the virus has had to change as the store began to run out of disposable gloves. Now, employees use hand sanitizer on their gloves between any interactions with customers instead of using a new pair of gloves.
However, the store has implemented many, many other precautions to help flatten the curve, including starting a online ordering system, which allows customers to shop virtually and have groceries delivered to their car in the parking lot; removal of all self-service items, such as bulk bins or coffee; and the request for all customers to shop individually. The store can only accommodate a handful of customers in its building now, due to the Health Department’s restrictions.
“It’s stressful,” she noted. “We’re cleaning more than ever, and shortened our hours slightly to allow for more cleaning. But it’s hard work, and it used to be kind of a fun, laid-back job where you socialized all day with customers and other staff members. Now, you’re running around the store with a face mask on which makes it harder to breathe, and almost all the socializing is gone — it just isn’t the same, you can’t see any faces even.”
Valerie noted that for Kindred Market, launching the online shopping cart was a major undertaking. Each and every product must be entered into the system with how much weight, amount, etc. is included in the product, nutrition information, photos and much more.
“It’s been a big, fat, hairy deal of a project,” Valerie said. “There’s over 13,000 individual products that all had to be uploaded with correct sizes, brand names and photos. We’re still going back and making sure everything from when we uploaded the inventory (a month prior) gets corrected. Almost every single line was written backwards.”
Valerie noted that the service has required the store to hire more employees, just to fill online orders. Before the online service launched, the store had offered to fill orders over the phone. However, that proved to be a time-consuming process that was not beneficial to the company.
Now, the company offers to help customers shop over the phone only if they are seeking under 10 items.
“We had to add staff just to p ick orders — it’s very labor intensive, and we didn’t want to charge for it during the pandemic, so we are doing it all for free,” Valerie said. “When this is all over, which golly I hope is soon, we’ll keep the webcart, as we’ve done all the work and getting it set up, but will probably have a fee for the service.”
She noted that the store cannot require face coverings, but have been handing out disposable masks to customers who wish to shop but arrived without a mask.
Kindred also has implemented a voluntary “hazard pay fee” to help support employees. The fee is three percent of any sale, and can be turned down, no questions asked, at checkout. The total amount collected from the fee is counted at the end of the week, and based on the number of employees and hours worked, the extra funding is split evenly among those who worked on the floor.
Valerie said it usually comes out to between $2.70 and $3.25 per hour for the employees.
“Customers can opt out, if they don’t want to or can’t afford to pay,” Valerie said. “But for the most part people are (paying it). Oftentimes, our staff delivering to cars in the parking lot receive tips as well. The staff can keep those to themselves, or throw it in the pool.”
As for the future, many of the new procedures will likely remain following COVID-19.
“I can’t wait to toss the face masks, and certainly we will remove the hazard pay,” Valerie said. “What we’ve seen is a significant increase in sales because of this. I think a lot of customers are more comfortable in our smaller store. I don’t expect that to go away.”