ALEXANDRIA, Va.—U.S. convenience and fuel retailers are reaching out to their customers across the country to share information about operational plans—including store and forecourt sanitization, employee leave flexibility and supply chain robustness—in the face of the fast-moving coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) that has largely tapped the brakes on public life as usual in hopes of slowing its spread.
7-Eleven, Casey’s, Sheetz and Wawa are among the retailers who have contacted customers via email or social media in recent days to communicate their plans, along with in-store discussions with concerned customers and employee team members.
Wawa CEO Chris Gheysens said in a message to customers Thursday, “We recognize that things are changing rapidly now. But please know one thing—We will do our best to be there for those that need us, when they need us, as long as we can.” The Pennsylvania-based retailer has partnered with the Red Cross to provide customers and associates with health and safety tips to limit the spread of any virus or infection. The tip sheet is available in all stores and can be downloaded here.
“For the past month, our team members have been operating with heightened attention to actions like store cleaning and more frequent handwashing,” Darren Rebelez, president and CEO, Casey’s General Stores, shared in an email to the Iowa-based c-store chain’s customers Thursday. “This includes being diligent with fundamental actions like increasing the frequency of cleaning food prep equipment, counters, restrooms and fuel pumps as well as other high-touch surfaces throughout our stores. As always, our team members are staying home if they are sick.”
For store operators, NACS e-learning partner Ready Training Online (RTO), which provides online training solutions for the convenience, restaurant, and retail industries, has created a free seven-minute training module on how to help prevent the spread of illness and disease at businesses. The training covers best practices and the basic techniques frontline staff can implement immediately to protect themselves and others from the spread of illnesses such as the common cold, flu and the current outbreak of COVID-19. Click here.
Beyond practicing good hygiene, sanitizing high-touch areas and making hand sanitizer stations available for customers and staff, many c-stores are suspending the use of refillable tumblers and mugs, eliminating food and beverage samples, considering limiting certain foodservice operations and expanding delivery services, including pump-side delivery.
On the forecourt, customers at many retailers will find plastic gas mitts, and some retailers are offering to pump gas for their customers, where staffing and local regulations allow.
Kenosha, Wisconsin-based Lou Perrine’s Gas and Grocery in a Facebook post reminded customers that the c-store delivers: “Corona Virus got you on lock down? Need a pack of smokes and some Mt Dew? No need to get out of the house, just hit us up and we will come to you!” The c-store also offers to pump gas and deliver in-store goods to customers on the forecourt in its “You Call We Pump” service. (For more on forecourt delivery, see “Pump-Side Delivery” in the August 2019 issue of NACS Magazine.)
Joe DePinto, 7-Eleven president and CEO, in an email Friday reminded customers that delivery is available to more than households through the 7NOW delivery app. He announced that starting this week, 7-Eleven will offer a contactless delivery option in response to CDC recommendations and customer requests.
Concerns about spreading germs via hand-to-hand contact when paying with cash has some retailers encouraging customers to pay by other means. “We request that payments are made by contactless card/phone where possible,” U.K.-based Applegreen said in a tweet.
Retailers also addressed supply chain concerns. DePinto said 7-eleven is “working with vendors and suppliers to stock stores with high demand, essential products and making them easy for you to find.”
Hy-Vee, the West Des Moines, Iowa-based grocery and c-store chain, said it is “working closely with our suppliers to make sure we have enough supplies to meet our shoppers’ needs. We are reaching out beyond our traditional supply channels to make sure we have the items you want. Our employees also are increasing their stocking efforts as we keep up with customer demand.”
In addition to meeting the needs of their customers, supporting their employees is top of mind for NACS members.
With schools closing across the country and public gatherings limited in size, parents are scrambling to secure backup childcare. For employees, Wawa said it is offering enhanced leave to provide flexibility and support. (For more on helping employees find child care, see “The Child-Care Crunch” in the March issue of NACS Magazine.)
Sheetz is providing up to an additional two weeks of paid time off to any team member who contracts the virus or has to quarantined due to exposure. The Pennsylvania-based retailer also is reassuring employees with pre-exisiting health conditions or compromised immune systems who are especially vulnerable to the virus that they are eligible for leave without fear of losing their jobs.
Sheetz President and COO Travis Sheetz in a message to customers raised the possibility that some c-stores may need to close as a last resort.
“As you well know, Sheetz team members weather some pretty big storms, but these are unchartered waters for all of us,” Sheetz said. “While we are driven to remain open and available to you, we will not jeopardize anyone’s health or safety in that effort and must follow the direction of local, state and federal health agencies and officials. As a last resort, some stores could close. At a minimum, you may experience staffing shortfalls, so we thank you for your support of our team members as they work tirelessly to continue to provide the TCF [Total Customer Focus] you are accustomed to at Sheetz.”
For more information from NACS about navigating the COVID-19 outbreak, visit the NACS Coronavirus Resources page.