The battering that that northeastern part of the United States has been taking over the last few months (Hurricane Sandy, the recent blizzards) have been sad to read about and devastating for many of the folks directly impacted. People have died, homes have been lost, and property destroyed. Frankly, it is so difficult to imagine that I can’t even fathom how horrific it must be to live through.
As difficult as these events are (and regardless of the reason they happen) natural disasters are a part of life. We can’t control the weather and often times can’t control events. Stuff happens and how we respond illuminates our character as a person and as a race. Reading how people and businesses responded to Sandy got me to thinking not only about what we can do to help as individuals but also how we in the retail industry can help.
One of my main beliefs is that we, as an industry, are here to serve our customers. That is really what retail is all about – helping others. I think calamitous events allow us to prove our mettle and our worth to others.
We were operating stores in the southern part of the US during Hurricane Katrina. When the storm hit our first directive to our employees was to make sure that they and their families were safe. The next one was for them to come into the stores if it was safe for them to travel. When circumstances become difficult people look to their local shops to help. It is in a time of crisis that the essentials become so important – food, fuel, water and batteries. Some of our stores were damaged and not safe to open to the public but we could open the majority of them. We had electricity in most and, where we didn’t have power and little physical damage we opened without lights or registers.
Our folks did a great job serving our customers until our inventory ran out. We didn’t raise prices and tried to ration items to make them available to as many people as possible. Frankly, when I hear of retailers raising the prices in their stores during a disaster it disgusts me. We have a relationship with our customers. They depend upon us to provide them with products and services at fair prices. We depend upon them to shop with us on a regular basis. It is a mutually beneficial relationship.
Don’t get me wrong. I have no problem with someone making a profit during difficult times but the laws of supply and demand should not apply when people are hurting. The everyday price of our products reflect a profit margin that will allow us to make money. It is when a retailer becomes greedy and wants to take advantage of the situation that is wrong both morally and ethically. If we stay true to our customers they will stay true to us.