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Where Were You During the Great Quarantine of 2020?

Roy Strasburger is a frequent contributor to FMN (Fuels Marketer News), online publishers of news for the fuels and convenience store industry.

As everyone is very well aware, the COVID-19 (“Corona”) virus has changed the way that we are living life. Public gathering spaces are closed, retail outlets are closed, and social interaction as we know it no longer exists. Shelter-at-home edicts? Now we have it. How have you adapted to the change?

In our company, StrasGlobal, the COVID-19 virus has had a major impact upon the way that we operate our stores. It has disrupted our staff, customers, and suppliers. Things we took for granted no longer exist. We are having to adjust to a new reality – even if it is only for the next few months. However, we know that whatever the long-term future holds, life will not be the same as it was in January 2020.

We have always put the health and safety of our team members first but now we have to be much more proactive in doing so. When the pandemic started to spread in United States, we immediately issued new instructions and health guidelines for our team members. At the beginning, these were the basic steps that the CDC was recommending: washing hands, cleaning surfaces, and observing “social distancing”. Since then, we have begun implementing more stringent guidelines including issuing gloves, facemasks, disposable smocks, and sanitizer to all of our store teams. Admittedly, some of these items have been difficult to obtain and we have not had 100% coverage due to supply issues but we continue to source these products for our stores.

We have put into place more public health initiatives such as removing self-service foodservice items that are not packaged, placing fountain and coffee drink cups behind the counter, only using packaged condiments, and banning refillable cups. Signs are being posted in our stores reminding customers about the infection hazard and asking them to maintain space between each other. We are starting to limit how many customers can be in a store at one time and asking the others to patiently wait outside.

We also put into place more stringent store cleaning protocols such as having a designated cleaning person on every shift to sanitize all areas regularly touched by the public, placing sneeze guards between our POS positions and our customers, indicating on the floor the safe distance for our customers to stand apart, and putting a decontamination station (sanitizer, wipes, and gloves) by the front door. By implementing these measures, we hope that we can prevent the spread of the virus to our team and slow the spread between our customers.

It goes without saying that our team members keeping our stores open are on the front lines and have done an amazing job. Even when they have issues at home, or when they are concerned about their own health, they have continued to provide a key service to the community by keeping our stores open as an essential business. Without out services, it would be harder for people to find food and fuel. We are trying to help the communities that we belong to.

In the future, we are planning on introducing even more programs to help slow down the virus as well as providing a higher level of comfort and safety for our customers and team. These include curbside delivery, in-store pick up, and home delivery services – where we can provide them. An important component is trying to work with community assistance groups to help get supplies and information to the most vulnerable of our neighbors.

It is ironic that in an industry where personal contact and human interaction during the shopping experience has been the traditional norm, we are now trying to put into place programs that reduce the amount of time people are in contact with each other or eliminate that contact completely. It will be interesting to see how this new type of retail – and by new, I mean more widespread than has been in the past – will affect the way we do business in the future and our customers’ expectations of us.

Regardless of where we end up on the spectrum of human interaction, we will have to continually reinvent ourselves to maximize the services we provide to our customers and to our communities while, at the same time, providing the level of safety that our team and customers expect.

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Roy Strasburger is the President of StrasGlobal. For 35 years StrasGlobal has been the choice of global oil brands, distressed assets managers, real estate lenders and private investors seeking a complete, turn-key retail management solution from the most experienced team in the industry.

Contact him at roy@strasglobal.com.