While it’s clear that most of America – from the federal government to individual businesses – was unprepared for the coronavirus pandemic, some companies were onto the problem at a very early stage.
Perhaps the most forward thinking of them all is one based here in Texas: H-E-B, the San Antonio-based supermarket chain that is considered one of the best retailers in the grocery segment.
In an excellent story in Texas Monthly, the company describes how it had preliminary plans in place for more than a decade for dealing with a pandemic and that once it realized that COVID-19 could impact its business it went into action. The company first developed a plan for dealing with situations like this during an earlier virus outbreak in China and used it for the first time in 2009 when the swine flu hit the world.
For the outbreak now, H-E-B started following developments the second week of January, when it talked to global suppliers and retailer counterparts in China. Following its course in China, the Texas retailer profiled how it might play out back home and refined its plans for how its employees would be affected.
Within a few weeks, the retailer was curtailing its operating hours to provide more re-stocking time in its stores and even moved office staff to the store level, filling shelves and working the check-out lanes.
On March 4 it activated its Emergency Operations Center to coordinate all its efforts across the entire company. H-E-B brought in meals for the staff and even provided special shopping access for them, knowing they could not get into regular stores during working hours.
The retailer also worked with suppliers to increase shipments of critical products, trying to anticipate what shoppers would be hoarding. They identified key items, but as they said in the Texas Monthly article, “[We] don’t think anybody saw the toilet paper rush coming.”
The most valuable lessons H-E-B has learned so far? “Most important for us is to listen to what’s going on in our stores…and to actually respond to it.” One other insight: “Our customers want to hear to from us. They want to hear our perspective, they want to know what we’re doing, what we’re thinking, how we’re helping our communities.”
For the full, fascinating rundown of how H-E-B prepared for the worst and did its best, read the Texas Monthly story here: https://www.texasmonthly.com/food/heb-prepared-coronavirus-pandemic/