Coronavirus

‘Non-Essential’ Retailers Step Up For Their Employees

Bed Bath & Beyond

Let’s face it, if you’re a supermarket or pharmacy chain that is most likely seeing the same or even more revenue during the COVID-19 crisis, it’s fairly easy to give employees bonuses and commit to their long-term employment. But for non-essential retail, stepping up takes more commitment, risk and money. It’s in the non-essential category that true retail heroes are showing up amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Case No. 1: In Detroit Bedrock LLC real estate company is giving free rent for the next three months to its small-business retail and restaurant tenants. The company’s  portfolio in and around downtown, is said to be expansive and comes as Detroit deals with at least 1,035 infections and nine deaths from COVID-19.

Matt Cullen, CEO of Bedrock, said dozens of businesses will not pay rent, common area maintenance and security and parking fees in April, May and June, which will cost “millions,” he said. “We wanted to give people the confidence that they could start working on the relaunch of their business rather than what they’ll do over the course of the next 30 to 60 days relative to cash flow,” he said in an interview with Crain’s Detroit Business on Sunday (March 22), adding that “more than 40 percent” of downtown retailers and restaurants are part of the Bedrock tenant roster and would therefore get rent relief.

Case No. 2 is Bed Bath & Beyond Inc. It was hurting financially before the crisis hit and announced on Sunday that it would close all its retail banner stores across the U.S. and Canada, other than its buybuy Baby and Harmon Face Values stores. Most of the company’s approximately 1,500 stores will be closed to the public until April 3, with only about 175 of its stores remaining open. The company will provide all employees with applicable pay and benefits for this period.

“Our number one priority is the health and safety of our customers and associates,” said Bed Bath & Beyond Inc. President and CEO Mark Tritton. “We will do our part to slow the spread of this virus by closing the vast majority of stores across our retail operations. Responding to consumer demand, we will continue to make available essential infant, personal and health care products to customers who need items urgently, in our stand-alone buybuy BABY and Harmon stores. Meanwhile, we are improving our ability to deliver other essential items to our loyal customers’ homes during this time, by enhancing our e-commerce capabilities and regional distribution network.”

Case No. 3: Petco. It has been deemed “essential” retail, but has gone above and beyond in support of its 27,000 employees. Over the weekend it launched an employee relief fund with an initial $2 million investment from Petco, plus donations from its private equity sponsors at CVC Capital Partners, and donations from its board of directors and executive leadership team, including CEO Ron Coughlin.

The Petco Partner Assistance Fund will be administered by E4E Relief, the company said. It will provide financial assistance to active Petco partners, their spouses/domestic partners, dependents, and other household members for financial hardship resulting from the crisis. Financial assistance will be issued based on application review and will include housing, utilities, transportation, childcare, insurance deductibles, household contents, medical or funeral expenses or necessary counseling.

Case No. 4 is Walgreens, which has also been deemed essential. It announced a one-time bonus plan last week, but also went further. In addition to a $300 bonus, Walgreens has updated its attendance policy for hourly team members through the end of April, allowing them to stay at home due to concerns surrounding COVID-19. If a team member contracts a confirmed case of COVID-19, the first two weeks of absence will be paid. And additional pay option may be available through disability leave.

Walgreens also announced other new crisis measures, including a “Social Distancing Line,” which begins six feet away from all checkout counters. And Walgreens is also introducing Sanvello, a new, free mobile app for all team members that provides peer support to reduce stress and anxiety.

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