While things seem to be slowly regaining a sense of normalcy, the effects of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic can still be seen in businesses worldwide.
For green industry dealers with locations in more than one state, operating according to each state’s specific COVID-19 guidelines can prove difficult.
Total Landscape Care reached out to dealers with John Deere and Bob-Cat Mowers to see how operations have been since the start of the virus and how they are making their way through the pandemic.
State by state adjustments
Richard Miller, corporate sales manager, TriGreen Equipment, a John Deere dealer, operates in 22 locations across Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi.
At this time, Miller says they’ve only had to temporarily close one location in Birmingham, Alabama, due to the virus, but they have plans to re-open once the pandemic has subsided.
“It has certainly been a challenge for us to familiarize ourselves with the different local reopening plans, however, our employees in each state are educated on the local plans and regulations and have been working to stay on top of the ever-changing climate,” says Miller. “We are confident that there are no changes we couldn’t overcome in the future.”
Ralph Helm with Ralph Helm, Inc., a Bob-Cat Mower dealer in the Chicago area, operates two locations. At the start of the virus, Helm says he did close both locations down for two days to develop a plan on how best to handle the situation, but both locations are back open and running at this time.
As a wholesale distributor, Arin Monroe, president of Hayward Distributing, a Bob-Cat Mower dealer, says there are numerous dealers they support across 11 states.
“Some of our dealers did close, but the majority of them stayed open if their states allowed it,” says Monroe. “Many of them were deemed ‘essential’ to the landscape or agriculture industry. I believe most of them have reopened at this point.”
To help deal with the varying guidelines of each state, Monroe says they required their sales team to follow the regulations from the state they live in. Monroe says company travel has started up once again, but travelers are not allowed to go outside of their home state just yet.
So far, Miller says social distancing has been the biggest challenge for his teams, as they’ve had to change their daily operations to ensure customers and employees remain safe.
“Once we received local guidelines and regulations, every store was equipped with proper cleaning supplies such as sanitizing wipes and sprays,” says Miller. “Our employees began practicing social distancing amongst coworkers, and we were able to limit how many people would enter the store at a given time.”
Miller says they’ve made a variety of changes in their stores such as installing protective screens at check-out counters, temporarily adjusting business hours, implementing extra cleaning and sanitizing, enforcing social distancing inside the stores and managing and reducing customer contact.
Miller says they are also offering curbside service and pick-up to accommodate customers, which he says has been well received. Miller adds they intend to continue curbside pickup in the future, as well as complete non-contact pickup of parts in areas where it works with the location and based on customer requests.
Across all 22 locations, Miller says informative signage was installed in stores to help make everyone feel comfortable during their time in the store.
“We quickly learned how to deal with different types of customers and recognize their comfort levels to give them the best experience,” says Miller.
For employees who can complete their jobs from home, Miller says they have been working remotely during the pandemic. He adds that they have also increased their communications by utilizing video calls and virtual meetings.
Helm says they have also implemented similar safety and cleanliness practices in his locations.
“Our employees are working hard to change long time habits but I feel they are doing a great job,” says Helm.
Monroe says they’ve asked most of their office personnel to work from home while the warehouse staff continues to work in full shifts, and for those still working in the office or warehouse, they have implemented daily screening and personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements. So far, Monroe says they have not had a disruption in service to their customers.
“We have a regular cleaning schedule throughout the day,” says Monroe. “All employees in the building have their own designated personal space for distancing. We have also marked the proper distances on the floors in areas that might have people crossing paths during the workday.”
Initially, Miller says they shortened their hours for two weeks to gauge the situation, but once they got the rhythm, Miller says their customers’ demand helped them reopen to their regular store hours.
“We think it is important to instill confidence in our local communities that we will be there to support them through this pandemic,” says Miller.
To date, Monroe says they expect to remain open, as he says they have several products that are essential in the construction, agriculture and landscaping industries.
Helm believes it’s important to keep doors open during this time, but at the same time, he says employers need to make sure they are keeping their staff and customers as safe as possible.
“We feel it is important to be safe and responsible,” says Helm. “If you start to try to stay open longer either by working current staff more or with a reduced staff, you lessen your ability to do that.”
All hands on deck
While many companies across the nation were forced to lay off employees, these dealers say they’ve had to have as much help as possible to meet their ongoing demand.
“Given the time of year, our stores have been very busy, and we need all hands on deck to operate during our busy season,” says Miller. “Some of our employees have requested to self-quarantine or stay at home and we have worked with each employee to accommodate their needs during this time.”
While Helm says they did reduce some of their extended hours that would normally happen in the spring, they did not have to make staffing cuts. Monroe says they, too, were fortunate enough to not have to make staffing cuts, and he says at this time, he sees no reason they would have to make cuts in the future.
Check back tomorrow for part two, where we’ll see the financial impact COVID-19 has had on these dealers, as well as how equipment sales have been affected.