Amid a pandemic that’s shifting norms and shopping habits, retailers nationwide must grapple with an economy in flux.
As early as February, Raymond Huff predicted COVID-19 would impact his Russell’s Convenience Stores business. What he didn’t anticipate was a whopping 85% drop in sales when states locked down. The president of Denver-based HJB Convenience Corp., parent company of Russell’s, Huff has spent his career surmounting impossible challenges, but the economic fallout due to the COVID-19 pandemic and state lockdowns might be the biggest obstacle he’s had to overcome as a retail veteran.
He’s not alone. Convenience store chains across the country are adapting to a new normal as well as evolving local health and safety rules, while working to roll
out new programs like mobile apps, online ordering, curbside pickup and delivery, and so much more, at a rapid-fi re pace to keep business on track. Huff has battled a tough economy before and come out on top. In the aftermath of 9/11, he watched the economy crumble and store sales tank to the tune of 40-60% at Russell’s. At that time, Russell’s was owned by Trans Pacifi c Stores Ltd. (TPS), which was owned by Quince — a partnership that owned several retail ventures, for which Huff was the vice president of operations. When TPS began to divest the c-stores, Huff, a partial owner in TPS, realized he had the assets to purchase the remaining locations. He acquired Russell’s in 2004, at a time when the chain had a loss of $2.6 million in shrinkage and was hemorrhaging in-store sales. Within a few years, Huff reduced shrink to nearly zero, invested in his employees and sent sales skyrocketing. Today, he operates 19 stores in Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Hawaii, including two micromarts.
Eighteen of the 19 stores are located in office buildings in previously booming downtown metro areas. But this unique model is presenting an unprecedented challenge in the 2020 climate. Now the cities are quiet and the office buildings vacant as employees work from home. Huff doesn’t expect delivery to work in his situation, as most customers live outside the city limits and order from businesses closer to home.