As the COVID-19 pandemic progresses, c-stores are doing on a faster track what the convenience industry has done time and again for decades – adapt. Chains, large and small, have implemented safety measures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as well as federal, state and local authorities, as operators juggle long-valued responsibilities to their team members and guests, both health wise and service wise.
Many of the convenience stores CSD has been in contact with have already taken extra cleaning steps on top of their already comprehensive cleaning regimens. Stores have stepped up protocols like around-the-clock cleaning and sanitizing inside of all high-use touchpoints such as door knobs, coffee handles and dispensing equipment; providing employees with gloves and other hygiene tools; having hand sanitizer available at all registers for customers and team members; wiping down pumps and cleaning outside on a regular and brisk basis.
Colorado-based Loaf ‘N Jug, which operates 152 stores and is under the EG America umbrella, turned to social media forum Facebook to post its March 18, COVID-19 message.
“As impacts of COVID-19 continue to be felt across the United States, we have taken several steps to serve and meet your needs in the safest in-store environment across all of our stores. In addition to enhanced standards and procedures for cleaning protocols, we are temporarily discontinuing reusable cups, have blocked all in-store seating areas and have temporarily suspended consumption of food on-site.”
While six U.S. states had ordered bars and restaurants to close, allowing takeout only orders, many c-store chains across the nation adopted that course of action proactively.
Parkland USA, with 51 stores in the Southwestern U.S., did just that, according to Parkland USA Vice President, People & Culture and Communication, Laura Varn via email. Parkland is also making sure it takes care of its people, asking its 65 years and older store employees to go home for two weeks. With pay.
“They are still being paid regular wages and are not using PTO (paid time off),” said Varn. “We wanted to protect them as they are in the age group that is most prone and work in a high traffic, high touch environment with customers and cash.”
Sheetz, Kum & Go and Dash In have instituted similar policies, expanding paid time off for staff. And Congress this week passed and President Trump signed new legislation for paid leave and offsetting tax credits for employers.
C-store chains are also finding ways to make it easier for customers to access their offerings, too. Chestnut Markets, a division of New Paltz, N.Y-based CPD Energy, which operates and supplies more than 200 locations, is offering curbside pickup.
Stewart’s Shops, based in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., with 342 stores in upstate New York and Western Vermont, said it will pare its supply of items to offer more products considered essential, better fitting the needs of customers during the health emergency.
“Frequent deliveries to the shops and efficient systems at the manufacturing and distribution plant prove to be an important asset to keep our shelves stocked with the products (consumers) need. You may notice a shift in promotions and selection in the coming days. This is to maintain the supply of necessities rather than a particular flavor of ice cream,” read a statement on its website titled, “We’re All in This Together.”
These are merely a handful of examples of what convenience stores are doing industry wide to help customers cope with the unique needs presented by what is now a widespread housebound population.
EG America is part of the international EG Group based in London, which is responding to the health emergency in North America and around the globe. Again, safety and service remain the priorities.
“The EG family are doing everything we can to maintain your trust and provide you with a safe environment while continuing to provide all of the essential services, such as fuel and grocery products, that we can,” read a message from EG America President George Fournier. “We are committed to remaining open to serve you for as long as it is safe do so.”
The Pilot Co. operates more than 700 travel centers across North America and its message during the pandemic is “Safety First.”
“Pilot Flying J’s top priority as the COVID-19 public health emergency continues to evolve is protecting the safety of team members and guests, while continuing to provide essential services and goods,” a company spokesperson Cara Lutz responded via email. She also said that workers continue to stock store shelves and coolers to provide the same service Pilot guests count on.
Team members must stick to strict hand-washing policies and hand sanitizer is available for both store staff as well as guests.
Like other convenience retailers and food outlets, Pilot discontinued in-store dining and enhanced its cleaning protocols. But Pilot also provides services most c-stores do not that are necessities to the professional drivers on long hauls.
As of March 18, all of its stores remain open and providing fuel. Showers are available at all of those locations, as well, as is pre-packaged deli food. Though to discourage groups of customers congregating, Pilot has closed all of its driver lounges and, in some states, game rooms.
Pilot has posted an impressive COVID-19 response page on its website, providing not only information regarding individual state policies but a list of useful website links for government, medical and commercial organizations.
All of the above examples are solid evidence that convenience stores remain an indispensable asset for people as they cope with the current health emergency as it evolves. Hunkered down and self-quarantined consumers will remain just that – consumers. They’ll still need the everyday items households need to operate – groceries, food, fuel, incidentals like batteries and, yes, toilet paper and others – nearly all of which are supplied by convenience stores.