4 lessons businesses have learned from COVID-19

A store employee disinfecting her work station
Emily Spicklemire

This hasn’t been the year that anyone expected. Most retailers, restaurants, and other non-essential businesses have been hit hard with decreased foot traffic and ever-changing regulations. Here are the lessons we’ve learned about facilities operations in the months since COVID-19 took over:

1. Curbside pickup is here to stay

In January 2020 “curbside pickup” was largely an industry term, a service aimed at busy parents that some grocery stores offered. Now, it’s a staple across nearly all retail and restaurant categories.

Between April 1 and April 20, Adobe Analytics reported a 208 percent YoY increase in orders placed online for curbside or in-person pickup at brick-and-mortar locations[1]. Additionally, a CommerceHub survey indicates that 67 percent of consumers are likely to continue using curbside pickup post-COVID when delivery is not available or fast enough—an increase from 59 percent earlier in the pandemic[2].

The increase in curbside pickup means thinking differently about your exteriors. Modifications, big and small, may be necessary in order to ensure that your site is prepared to effectively and efficiently manage consumer demand. Learn more about our full curbside pickup recommendations, including a site design modification plan.

2. Cleaning frequency and visibility is important to customers and team members

The days of a single, self-serve cart wipe dispenser at the front of your store are over. Sixty-six percent of consumers surveyed ranked frequent cleaning and sanitizing as the top measure that would make them more likely or more comfortable visiting physical spaces[3].

Consumers want to know that the spaces they visit are safe, which can mean bringing cleaning procedure front and center. Regular cleaning of high-traffic areas, cart disinfection, and providing employees with tools and education on sanitizing their workspaces are all positive steps toward customer confidence.

Increased cleaning protocols are also important to instill peace of mind among in-store teams. One SMS Assist client, a national retail bank, was experiencing high levels of employee call outs in the early weeks of the pandemic. As an essential business their doors needed to remain open and accessible, but employees were understandably concerned for their health and safety. Once the bank worked with SMS Assist to implement a thorough nightly cleaning program across 250 locations, including a complete location disinfection when a positive COVID test was reported, staffing issues have come to a near-complete resolution.

The good news for facility managers is that with necessity comes ingenuity, and there are options for keeping your stores safe and sanitized. Electrostatic disinfection is a recent advance in the commercial and industrial cleaning industry that can be more effective in eliminating pathogens than traditional spray and wipe cleaning methods.

3. A dark store management strategy is mandatory

A disappointing reality is that some locations may not reopen. Local restrictions may bar a store from operating—for example, some areas may require stores to have at least one entrance to the outside, which could keep a mall location closed—or a company may decide to consolidate their portfolio to concentrate resources on the highest-performing or most-trafficked locations.

Even if a store is closed, there’s still work to be done. HVAC, plumbing, and electrical must be maintained to ensure that no minor issues develop into large emergencies. A dark store management strategy will ensure that the location remains in working order and allows a company an opportunity to pivot if necessary, like transforming a shuttered location into a local distribution hub.

4. In a crisis, facilities management—and partnership—is key

If you’re a facilities manager, you already know that facilities management is crisis management. A burst pipe or broken window can shut your location down and ultimately impact your company’s bottom line. It’s up to you to manage the behind-the-scenes emergencies and keep your portfolio up and running.

In the immediate aftermath of the coronavirus outbreak, UV filters for HVAC were highly sought after. Without the right partner or relationships, it could be difficult to acquire the right equipment or prioritize where to invest. Strategic partnerships can help navigate crisis situations and manage an organization’s spend, particularly when exploring new items or updating major equipment.

Additionally, most municipalities have different regulations for business operations in response to COVID-19. If your portfolio spans multiple states, counties, or cities, the time spent to keep up with current rules is another job in itself. Working with a partner can ensure that you have a dedicated resource to manage facility requirements and decrease the amount of risk at each location.

The COVID-19 crisis hastened the transition of your facilities department from the boiler room to the board room. Your facilities are a physical extension of your brand, and facilities management is ultimately about designing strategic, value-added outcomes for your company.

[1] CNBC: https://www.cnbc.com/2020/04/27/coronavirus-curbside-pickup-at-retail-stores-surges-208percent.html

[2] Digital Commerce 360: https://www.digitalcommerce360.com/article/coronavirus-impact-online-retail/

[3] International Council of Shopping Centers: https://www.icsc.com/news-and-views/icsc-exchange/icsc-research-consumers-want-to-return-to-stores-asap-but-want-to-do-so-saf