Working around the obstacles of COVID-19
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Working around the obstacles of COVID-19

Whether it’s face mask policies or making sure employees are in peak physical condition, keep these tips in mind as your facility navigates through the pandemic.

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July 23, 2020

As the coronavirus pandemic unfolds around the country, there's still a lot of uncertainty for many garden centers as they settle into the “new normal.” Zach Bruce, safety services manager, and Apryl Marti, associate relations specialist at Hortica, share how IGC owners can continue to conduct business in the safest conditions possible.

Face masks

As many businesses and state governments enact a mask-wearing policy, Bruce says to make sure your IGC’s intentions are clear up front. Make sure your signage is easy to read and consistent with your brand’s message. And Iit helps to acknowledge and thank your shoppers for their continued support.

“Have signage at the entrances. Use your social media to make sure that customers know what is going to be expected of them. Make sure the signage includes if they are going to be required to wear a face mask, along with any occupancy restrictions,” Bruce says. “Give customers a quick, ‘Hey, thank you for understanding, complying and making sure that you're keeping both yourself and our employees safe while shopping at the facility.’”

What happens if customers provide pushback on your face mask policy? Bruce says to keep in mind that even with a  mask mandate, there are certain people who can't wear a mask due to health concerns or  health reasons. Otherwise, be firm in explaining and helping them understand that it's for their safety as well as the employees’ safety.

“What's equally as important too, is that customers understand that this is our common practice for people to wear a mask. It's not something that we're only choosing certain people have to wear masks. We're doing this on a store-wide basis,” Marti says. “Train employees and make sure that they know how to convey the message with empathy in a way that's clear that, ‘This is to protect you. This is to protect our employees. It's to protect everybody.’ Helping them know how to use empathy in their communication is important.”

Constant facility inspections

Bruce says the most important thing to be aware of is your facility space. To roll with the COVID-19 punches, garden centers must conduct full facility inspections. Think about the prevention measures that need to be put into place and pay attention to high-traffic areas. IGCs can do this by addressing and revaluating close-space proximities with signage or floor markings to maintain 6 feet of space.

“A lot of garden centers traditionally like to pack a lot of stuff into their facility, which made it kind of hard for people to move around and stay 6 feet apart,” Bruce says. “Look at opening up some of the display areas or designate entrances to one-way aisles.”

As businesses operate with limited or reduced staff, IGCs must think about the future for when they fully reopen to the public. They must also think about the equipment that’s been sitting idly and unused, like forklifts, tractors, etc. According to Bruce, there’s been some pretty big claims regarding those.

He also says they’ve even seen birds or rodents build nests inside areas of equipment, which results in a very large potentially catastrophic fire for the facility. Employees should read over the manufacturer's operator's manual and do a thorough inspection of the equipment before they start it back up again.

Employee physical fitness

In addition to fully ramping up operations, be cognizant of phasing in furloughed employees by enacting a reconditioning period.

“People have been at home, not doing their day-to-day work throughout the facility or at the job. They get out of shape. Have a plan in place to bring back people and recondition them and get them moving at a little bit of a slower pace with their physical or demanding roles,” Bruce says.

He suggests looking at job tasks that require heavy lifting or other physically demanding duties. Are there ways they can use equipment — such as forklifts, loaders, additional carts — to lighten the burden? Make sure employees take micro breaks and have two person teams lift heavy objects as employees ease back into physical shape.

“And then lastly of course, they [IGCs] want to have somebody who's routinely checking CDC, OSHA websites and information, as well as their state and local health authorities to make sure that they're keeping up on the most up-to date- recommendations and policies in states where the company is in operation,” Bruce says.

In the event of another coronavirus spike, IGCs should sift through their data and look at the first round’s outcome. What areas can your garden center improve ? What availability barriers can you overcome so customers can receive the products they want? Whether it’s focusing on online sales or utilizing a specific sales phone number for orders, it takes planning and dedication of every single staff member to manage these new processes.

Communication avenues

It’s an uncertain time and employee concerns are expected. Make sure that your procedures are consistent and most of all, be patient.

“The garden center's leadership culture is really going to be crucial during the initial months of either reopening or continuing operation,” Marti says.

Show a corrective willingness to listen and embrace feedback. Make sure to communicate clearly and frequently about the plan for managing employee concerns. Ensure that everyone knows the procedures and specific guidelines in place. Marti suggests sending reminders via email or highlighting specific sections of the employee handbook to constantly keep your employees in the loop.

“At the end of the day, most employers want to do right by their employees. But again, if they're running into issues with that first line manager, they can go up to a next line manager or if the garden center has an HR team, they could go to them if they're concerned about it being resolved,” Marti says.