Bob’s Discount Furniture is going beyond government guidelines for its comprehensive COVID-19 store reopening strategy.
The Manchester, Conn.-based home furnishings retailer, which opened for business in 1991, has doubled its store count in the past four years, giving it a total of 128 stores. In addition to recent expansion in California and Nevada, the retailer also plans to open new stores in Arizona, Ohio, and Michigan later in 2020. However, the emergence of COVID-19 temporarily halted Bob’s busy brick-and-mortar activity.
“We began closing our first stores in Philadelphia on March 15,” Roger Dunlap, senior VP of sales and operations for Bob’s Discount Furniture, told Chain Store Age. “We closely followed the guidelines of states and municipalities, and we listened to our customers and store associates, as well.”
Bob’s maintained a full national store shutdown for about six weeks, initiating a gradual reopening process with its stores in St. Louis on May 5. Stores in Nevada reopened the next week, and Bob’s then progressively reopened stores in other states during the following seven weeks.
All brick-and-mortar stores in the U.S. are currently open. However, Bob’s only reached this point after carefully considering every aspect of the reopening process.
“Before we started reopening stores, we realized we were operating in a whole new world,” said Dunlap. “The mindset of customers and associates had changed. Naturally, they had some concerns about coming back.”
To alleviate those concerns, Bob’s made sure it could control the overall store environment while meeting, if not exceeding, all the different rules put in place by different states and municipalities. The day before a store reopened, the retailer conducted two hours of extra training on compliance with COVID-19 regulations and social distancing.
The retailer also confirmed that its “new normal” store environment still provided the experience Bob’s shoppers had come to expect over the years.
“We wanted to figure out what is the Bob’s way and what are Bob’s rules?” stated Dunlap. “We limit the amount of people or shopping groups in the store to 10-15 in the store at a time, based on the size of the store. Furniture customers regularly shop in groups.”
Across the country, Bob’s stores operate on a limited eight-hour schedule from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., seven days a week. Exceptions are made for shoppers who need them.
“There are additional appointments for people who are not comfortable shopping during our normal hours,” explained Dunlap. “For example, customers who have underlying conditions, are seniors, or are healthcare or frontline workers who may not be able to shop during normal store hours can shop either before the store is open or after closing. For customers with special situations we offer appointment-based shopping two hours before and after regular opening and closing times.”
Bob’s new store protocols – ABC, or “Always be Cleaning” - ensures that all associates arrive to work healthy and practice social distancing, and that the store environment is hygienic.
“Prior to the start of their shift, we take the temperature of store employees with mobile temperature-reading guns,” said Dunlap. “They are asked health-related questions and wash their hands in between serving customers. Everyone wipes down surfaces throughout day. Stores are professionally cleaned every day before opening. Beds and pillows have disposable protective coverings for customers to use when they try them out.”
“Also, salespeople are not right on top of shoppers, but are within earshot if they are needed,” Dunlap added. “Most stores are operating above local requirements.”
Bob’s also extends its COVID-19 protocols to shoppers, asking customers the same health questions as it does of its employees and giving them the option of a temperature check. (The majority agree, Dunlap said.)
In other moves, every store has added the new position of a greeter who is stationed at a table at the front of the store wearing a protective face covering, asking questions and taking the temp of customers. All employees wear a mask when dealing with the public, and if masks are not required for customers, Bob’s strongly recommend they wear them.
“All of these protocols set the tone for the experience,” Dunlap explained.
Bob’s which had already been transitioning its business to rely more heavily on e-commerce before the pandemic, has been focusing on digitally serving customers during the crisis. This includes offering contactless delivery of online orders.
The delivery team will drop off furniture items outside a customer’s residence with no touch. Bob’s also still offers its white glove delivery service, where personnel set up furniture in the customer’s home and remove old items, as well as threshold delivery where furniture is left in the room of the customer’s choice.
In addition, Bob’s has been utilizing store managers to take phone orders at stores across the country as part of what it calls the “Bob’s Squad.”
“We learned that phone orders are still important,” Dunlap said. “They are now a revenue platform and we plan to have Bob’s Squad in place long-term.”
By taking all of these steps, the retailer wants to make it clear to employees and customers that it is putting their health and safety first.
“Bob’s takes the COVID-19 pandemic seriously and is doing everything we can to take care of our associates and customers,” concluded Dunlap.