NATIONAL REPORT — Many convenience store retailers are taking exceptional precautions and educating both workers and customers about how to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus that has nearly paralyzed the nation.
Among the actions being taken, retailers are stepping up their cleaning, personal hygiene and sanitizing procedures; providing checklists to help store associates follow proper safety procedures to prevent the spread of the virus; and sending physical and digital notices to their customers about efforts to protect their health and well-being.
On March 12 — the day that the NBA suspended its season, the NCAA cancelled its annual championship tournament, and MLB closed spring training and delayed the start of the regular season by at least two weeks — Casey's General Stores Inc. sent a note to the retailer's guests about the coronavirus.
"As our local communities prepare for, or deal with some of the first impacts of the coronavirus, I wanted to share directly with you, our guests, the actions Casey's is taking to help keep our team members and guests safe," wrote President and CEO Darren Rebelez.
He noted that Ankeny, Iowa-based Casey's 2,100-plus stores remain open and "we are working hard to keep the products you love available."
For the past month, Rebelez wrote, Casey's team members have operated with heightened attention to store cleaning and more frequent handwashing. "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."
The retailer, he said, is also temporarily discontinuing the use of refillable mugs and cups in the stores. He promised the chain would share updates and that its internal task force would continue to monitor the situation and evaluate and expand existing response plans based on the latest information.
Fellow regional c-store powerhouse, Wawa Inc., also sent an email to customers from its president and CEO, Chris Gheysens.
"In these challenging times, our Wawa core purpose of Fulfilling Lives has never been more important," Gheysens wrote. "I want to assure you Wawa is committed to being there for our customers, especially when they need us the most. 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."
He went on to share the precautionary measures the Pennsylvania-based, 800-plus-store chain has taken to reinforce its already strong safety processes. Gheysens noted that the convenience retailer is partnering with the Red Cross to provide customers and associates with health and safety tips to limit the spread of any virus or infection. Tip sheets are available in all stores and through its website.
Other c-store chains have followed suit with similar notices.
Advice for Employees & Customers
StrasGlobal, a privately held retail consulting, operations and management provider serving the small-format retail industry, this week sent all its store managers two letters from CEO Roy Strasburger. One was for company personnel and the other for customers.
Store managers were told to post one letter in the office area where all employees can read it, and the other letter in the store for customers to view.
The letter to employees read: "According to the CDC (the Center for Disease Control), the spread of COVID-19 occurs when people are in close contact (less than 6 feet) with an infected person. We are sharing this information so you can help reduce the spread of infection in the workplace as well as at home."
The best ways to reduce the risk of getting this or any viral respiratory infection, according to the letter, include:
- Washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds;
- Avoiding touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands;
- Covering your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, then throwing the tissue in the trash and washing your hands. When a tissue is not available, cough or sneeze into your elbow;
- Avoiding close contact with people who are sick;
- Cleaning and disinfecting objects and surfaces; and
- Staying at home away from others if you are sick.
"While at work, you are encouraged to wear plastic or vinyl gloves while cashiering. The gloves should be changed often. If you choose not to wear gloves, wash your hands regularly and use sanitizing gel. Although the CDC does not recommend it, you are allowed to wear masks that cover your nose and mouth," the letter said.
Wiping the following with sanitizing wipes often will also promote a healthier workspace, the company added:
- Entry door, cooler door, checkout area countertops, and restroom door handles;
- Drink stations where customers are apt to touch countertops;
- Store phones and intercom systems; and
The letter also asks employees to notify their store managers if they, or someone in their household, becomes sick, and to stay home until everyone is clear of the virus.
"Not only will this help us keep other team members from becoming ill, it will also allow us to provide you with whatever assistance we have available. Please closely review all of our current food handling safety and store cleanliness procedures to make sure that they are being diligently followed and that we have enough supplies (soap for the bathrooms and store sinks, sanitizer, cleaning solutions, etc.) for the store," the letter said, offering a do-it-yourself recipe for hand sanitizer.
"Thank you for your help. We want you and your family to stay healthy. For more information and the latest update, please go the CDC website: www.cdc.gov. Keep well."
The letter to customers enumerated many of the CDC guidelines being followed by store workers.
Additional employee COVID-19 prevention training is being offered, free of charge, by online training firm RTO (Ready Training Online), to all of its retail clients. According Lisa Wells, director of communications and strategy for RTO, the training is in line with CDC recommendations and actions for disease prevention and will promote healthy habits that can be easily and immediately implemented.
To access the training link, click here.