COVID-19 update: home improvement industry gets creative to battle pandemic

Like many retailers, Osoyoos Home Hardware is limiting customers’ access to the store.

NATIONAL REPORT — Retailers big and small across Canada are responding to the COVID-19 crisis.

Canadian Tire associate dealers have implemented a temporary special support payment of $2 per hour for all active Canadian Tire store employees. This premium, a “thank you” to employees for their hard work in continuing to serve their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic, began March 22 and will continue until May 2.

The stores are installing plexiglass cashier shields and social distancing measures are being implemented throughout the stores. In addition, Canadian Tire stores are offering curbside pick up for online orders, where purchases are brought directly to customers’ vehicles.

Beginning on March 21, Home Depot Canada shortened its store hours to give staff more time to clean the work areas and replenish stock. The company also extended to its hourly full-time workers an additional 80 hours of paid sick or personal time; part-time workers will receive 40 hours. Plus, any staff diagnosed with COVID-19 will continue to be paid while out of work.

On March 23, Lowe’s Canada’s corporate stores under the Lowe’s, RONA and Reno-Depot banners across the country shortened their hours as well, closing at 6 p.m. in most regions. The aim was to “provide additional flexibility for our dedicated associates, and increase time for essential product replenishment, as well as thorough cleaning and disinfection of our stores daily.” Like many retailers, the company is encouraging customers to shop online and offering free shipping for most products.

To give workers more flexibility and support them for the time they need to stay home to support family or recover from illness, Lowe’s Canada has also put new temporary time-off guidelines in place.

Home Hardware Stores Ltd. is taking special measures to ensure continued service during the COVID-19 crisis. Team members are working diligently to replenish inventory, putting top priority on delivering essential goods to customers. Many stores are offering specialized services, including customized in-store hours, online orders and deliveries for customers at home.

The company has cancelled all events until further notice. That includes the Home Hardware Spring Market. It is being retooled as a Virtual Online Market.

Independents make a difference
Across the country, independents are facing the crisis in their own ways. In Osoyoos, B.C., Carla Jorgens, manager of Osoyoos Home Hardware, explains how her store has adapted. Tape has been put on the floors to mark out six-foot distances and the aisles down the side of the store have been taped off. Customers can come in and stand in the main aisle, “then our staff members go and grab the products for them.” Jorgens adds that staff can have the option of being laid off, if they prefer.

The store has also added a free delivery service from 9 to 11  a.m. and between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. “Lots of people are taking us up on this.”

In Wasaga Beach, Ont., a resort and retirement community two hours north of Toronto, Wasaga Beach Building Centre, a Castle dealer, is still letting people into the store, but a few at a time. Contractor business remains steady, as well, the store reports.

At Dwight Lumber, a Sexton dealer in Dwight, Ont., Debbie Monson, part owner, says the store is still letting people inside, “but we strongly suggest to anyone with compromised health that they stay outside and we’ll come out to the parking lot.” Like Jorgens in Osoyoos, she has put tape on the floors, while barriers have been set up between the cashiers and customers.

“At this time, we are continuing to stay open,” she says, but the situation is evaluated ongoing. While hours remain the same, staff have been given shorter work weeks. Only one employee asked to remain home during this time.

The store does most of its business with contractors. Monson says her pro customers continue to place orders, with sales of lumber staying strong. “And in the store, most of what we are selling now is cleaning products and disinfectants.”

The biggest challenge has been getting supplies. “But,” she adds pragmatically, “we’re not the only ones. The whole country is dealing with that.”

CORRECTION:  A previous version of this story stated that Lowe’s Canada implemented shorter hours on March 20, rather than on March 23, as stated here.