We're Better Together: An Interview with OhioBev Allied Industries

OhioBev recently reached out to some of our closest allied industries to discuss their experiences throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, including challenges that they have faced with re-opening and a return to business.


Ohio Restaurant Association

What are the top three challenges your members are facing as a result of the COVID-19 crisis?

1. Acquiring PPE supplies

2. Not enough guests/traffic for sales (only 27% think they will be able to break even in 2020) due to the three-month shutdown, capacity limits, customer reticence to visit businesses and restaurants, and worry about a roll-back of capacity

3. News about COVID-19 cases rising nationally and several counties in Ohio at Level 3 of Ohio’s COVID-19 chart

How have your members delivered better outcomes during the crisis?

This really depends on the type of restaurant. Those that already had strong delivery/takeout systems in place (also apps, contact-less systems and other technology) and were able to quickly adapt to only delivery/curbside, drive-thru are faring better. Many, however, are not, especially dine-in only.


What do your members think will change for good within your industry as a result of the COVID-19 crisis?

Many restaurants that did not have a social media presence, a good website or technology/apps in place for digital ordering will likely now have all of those in place. During the pandemic, it was essential to adapt to stay open. We know customers and fans miss going out to dine with friends and family at their favorite restaurants. To be able to continue to offer great service and delicious food despite the challenges is a win for both the operators and customers.

Ohio Council of Retail Merchants via Jeff Erb, President, Ohio Association of Convenience Stores

What are the top three challenges your members are facing as a result of the COVID-19 crisis?

1. Fear – because we are retail and deal directly with the public and in our rural area, that means pretty much every person in our small towns’ fear of getting the virus was initially our big hurdle. We quickly made hand sanitizer available (not an easy task!) as well as put up plexiglass barriers between our employees and customers. We instituted additional sanitizing and wiping. I also sent regular updates to the stores concerning the latest science and best practices. Most of our employees rose to the challenge. Most overcame their fears and allowed our stores to serve our communities. In some of our small communities we are the only source of fuel for emergency vehicles, Fire, Police, etc.

2. Getting Product – as most retailers experienced, there were outages and shortages of many products. We had to expand our contact list and look for additional sources.

3. Government Rules – there were several well-intentioned but impractical rules that were ordered that directly affected how we could do business. For example, the order to not allow self-serve drinks in our C-Stores. The interpretation of this order was left to the counties and of course there were various interpretations. A couple of our counties wanted us to have a store employee stand at the fountain/coffee station and dispense beverages for customers. At a time when we were struggling to staff stores, finding an additional person and paying more payroll when sales were down significantly because of the Stay at Home order was burdensome to say the least. With help from the good folks at the Council of Retail Merchants, there was a clarification and exemption made by the Governor allowing C-Stores to continue business as usual regarding the self-serve beverages.


How have your members delivered better outcomes during the crisis?

I would say perhaps the best thing that came out of this is that our customers and communities saw the dedication of our employees and our commitment to serving them even in a scary pandemic. I believe it has re-enforced our good standing with our towns and cities.


What do your members think will change for good within your industry as a result of the COVID-19 crisis?

I believe what you saw during this incredible event was that the best practices of our industry were in fact very solid. We did minor modifications to our processes and were able to function effectively and safely. I think this was where our association was most important - explaining this to the decision makers in Columbus so that they did not make more unnecessary rules that would have made business impossible or more difficult.

Ohio Grocers Association

What are the top three challenges your members are facing as a result of the COVID-19 crisis?

1. People and Personnel - as you know, when COVID-19 first hit and we were the only essential businesses open, our members got slammed. What we needed was more people to come on and be willing to work. It has certainly leveled off a bit but that continues to be a challenge. We are starting to see a few upticks in cases in different counties across the state again and we are doing all that we can to make sure everyone is safe and healthy.

2. This is more so for our smaller members but adjusting to new ways of shopping that were not in their immediate operation plans before such as delivery, curbside pickup, etc. The bigger stores were already in that game and prepared, but they got slammed as well. Even they had backups/congestion and continue to have these at times. The smaller members were in an even tougher situation because they were not structurally ready for this and had to adjust quickly. I think this is something they will continue to do in the future after this pandemic passes.

3. Making sure our stores are restocked and that everything looks like it used to before COVID-19 hit. There are certain products that are still in short supply such as cleaning supplies, toilet paper, etc., but it is starting to level out again. We also watch the meat case closely to make sure there is a good supply and a good variety like we had pre-pandemic.

How have your members delivered better outcomes during the crisis?

Customer Service - we were essential, and we had to learn quickly and on the fly. Our stores were always clean and ready for safe food delivery, but I think even more so now, you are going to see increased cleaning protocols that will continue with sneeze guards, etc. We want to make sure the customer feels it is safe to come in and get their groceries that they need. The curbside pickup and delivery, these things will continue - customers have learned that they can shop for food in a different way. I think our members have done a lot to step up and provide that. Overall, safety and convenience has stepped up during this crisis.


What do your members think will change for good within your industry as a result of the COVID-19 crisis?


More pickup and delivery options and increased safety protocols that will stick around. I do not think you will see the sneeze guards, etc. go away. Credit card usage was always prevalent, but you will probably see a little less cash usage in our industry moving forward - a lot of these changes are here to stay. Why go back if we realize this may be a risk in the future. Hopefully, some of bad things (e.g. stockpiling) will not stick around. Most likely the masks will not stick around but we don’t know, we must wait and see. What will be interesting to see is how soon or if self-service will come back – salad bars, etc.

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