COVID champions: The Irish retailers going above and beyond during the pandemic
They say that crisis can bring out the best in people and that’s certainly been the case during the pandemic. Over the past number of months, as a nation we’ve witnessed some incredible acts of kindness, selflessness and community spirit – and everyone has played their part, from those working on the front line in our hospitals to the people collecting our bins.
Likewise, the pandemic has been a real time to shine for Ireland’s retail sector. Retailers have played a crucial role in keeping cupboards stocked and bellies fed, all while ensuring the community at large feels safe.
More than that, many in the industry have gone above and beyond for their community. IF&CR wanted to shine a light on these retail heroes and draw attention to the incredible ways they’ve been serving their community.
In the second instalment of our COVID Champions series we profile Irish retailers on how they’ve been serving the community during the pandemic.
Kernan retail group in Donegal assigned COVID officers in their stores, set up online delivery and supported a number of community groups during the pandemic.
David O Donnell and his Ballyshannon team loading the van for another home delivery trip to the Ballyshannon Community
“Since the COVID pandemic hit Ireland, like all business we have had to adjust our business to ensure the safety of all our customers and staff,” says Kernans Group retail manager Patrick McBride. “As a starting point our team of retailers have worked hard to sure that each of our eight stores across Donegal are a safe place to visit and work in. We follow all the current guidelines as set down by the HSE and we have assigned one person from each of our stores as a COVID Officer. Basically the daily goal of all our team is to ensure we have all the trollies and handbaskets sanitised, that social distancing and the number of people allowed into our stores are monitored and that all our hand sanitising stations are clean, tidy and well stocked. We also installed protective screens at the tills as soon as the pandemic hit to ensure our customers and staffs safety.
“At The Kernan Group we count ourselves very lucky to serve eight communities and during lockdown we wanted to be there for them and help them out as much as possible,” Mr McBride adds. “We decided very early to set up a home delivery service for our most vulnerable customers, those who could not leave their homes. We were getting orders in daily through Facebook, telephone and WhatsApp. Some days we were making over 40 deliveries a day in a single store at the height of the pandemic.
“During the pandemic we were very proud to support a number of community groups that were set up locally to provide food for those who were in need. The main charities we donated to was Chef Aid in Ballyshannon and Letterkenny who carried out a huge operation preparing food and delivering it to people’s doorstep. This was a fantastic initiative and showed the true community spirit across Donegal. Along with our partners Seattle’s Best Coffee and Cuisine de France we also provided the nursing team and staff at the Letterkenny General hospital with croissants, muffins, apple squares and traybakes to show our appreciation for all their hard work.
“We also ran a very successful competition on our Facebook and Instagram page looking to find the Community Heroes in each of our eight communities across Donegal,” Mr McBride continues.
“We choose eight winners who each received a large hamper of goodies from their local Kernans store. We then had a quick interview with all the winners and shared their stories on our social media page where they then got the huge praise they deserved.”
McBride Retail Group, which has 12 stores that operate across counties Tyrone, Fermanagh and Armagh, set up donation boxes, donated food hampers and worked extra hard to ensure the safety of staff and customers
Naoise Brogan pictured with Rosemary Teague collecting customer donations for local food bank
“The first few weeks of lock down created an unprecedented period of change for convenience retailing in Northern Ireland,” explains McBride Retail Group’s Peter McBride. “Our teams worked tirelessly to ensure we had good product availability in stores and to ensure customers felt safe to shop with us. In the beginning there were many challenges around availability, we even struggled to get hand sanitiser, like many retailers. I worked with local company, ION Distillery, to produce hand sanitiser for the group to ensure staff and customer safety.
“Customer and employee safety was at the forefront of my mind all along, it was never about sales and profit, the best outcome for all was that we got through this safely, together. I reduced the operating hours in stores which gave my teams the chance to replenish stores safely and allowed them to focus on service during the day. We very quickly turned on customer density protocols, physical distancing measures in our stores, regular cleaning of high touch points, protective screens were installed and we provided face coverings and protection for our staff. Customer communication on how to shop safely was vital also and this was done through point of sale and our digital platforms.
“As a SPAR Retailer, our ethos has always been supporting local. We have always prided ourselves on taking a very active role in our communities and during the pandemic we really brought that ethos to life. Our whole community pulled together during this time of need and we had so many offers of support to provide deliveries, teaming up with many local groups to support the elderly and vulnerable, often delivering up to 50 deliveries per day. We also contributed a significant amount of vouchers to spend in store to make sure that those in need were supported.
“I am very proud of my management team who embraced the change that the pandemic brought with it. Stores took the lead in doing what they could to help others, some set up donation boxes in store for food shelters, while others donated food hampers to local nursing homes and NI Ambulance Service. Some of our team also volunteered to deliver hot dinners to some local people in need. The spirit in which our communities came together was incredible, demonstrated through their energy, passion, commitment, and care.
“Our employees are an absolute credit to us and we could not have made it through these challenging times without their support. They never wavered in their commitment to serving the community.”