COVID Heroes: Michigan Grocery Stores, Retailers Pivoted to Keep Customers Safe  

Amy Barczy

| 4 min read

Amy Barczy is a former brand journalist who authored...

Special needs man working a point of sale system at a store
As the world slowed to a crawl during the first months of the pandemic in 2020, grocery store associates were working hard to keep the shelves stocked and the stores clean. At the Cascade D&W Fresh Market store in Grand Rapids, it wasn’t just store associates on the floor – store director Emily Goodrow said corporate staff were helping to stock shelves to support the team, too.
Emily Goodrow “What stood out to me was how many associates came out to help,” Goodrow said.  The hard work of the grocery store employees didn’t go unnoticed. Signs, gift cards and food deliveries poured in for associates as they worked long hours. “If I had to put a label on us as grocery workers – we’re a proud group of individuals that take pride in serving the communities that we operate in on a daily basis,” said Travis Blair, store director of the Royal Oak Kroger. Other retail businesses also had to quickly pivot to keep customers safe. “Large and small – retailers have done an outstanding job changing on a dime,” said Jennifer Rook, vice president of communication and marketing of the Michigan Retailers Association.

Adapting to the New Normal

As safety regulations changed by the day, grocery store managers like Goodrow and Blair were in constant communication with their corporate offices to ensure their associates were up to speed.  “One of the biggest things was constantly acknowledging that we were in the unknown and we were all in it together,” Goodrow said of how she communicated with her staff. While grocery stores had to navigate new health and safety regulations, other retail businesses faced closures in the early months of the pandemic. For those businesses, they had to quickly pivot to online sales – either by adding e-commerce platforms to their own websites or launching sales through Facebook Marketplace. Offering home delivery and curbside pickup were also new pursuits for many. “They had to expand how they reached their customers because going into a store was not possible,” Rook said. “They had to figure out how to put their goods in front of people and make it easy for them.” Grocery stores also saw an explosion of interest in online ordering and pickup services. Goodrow said the Fast Lane orders to the Cascade D&W Fresh Market quadrupled if not more – and she had cross trained employees to step in to help across departments with orders if needed. “We went from 0 to 500 mph in a day,” Goodrow said, describing how quickly customer behavior changed with online orders.

Supporting Employees

Travis Blair Blair, the store director of the Royal Oak Kroger, oversees a staff of 300 associates and all in-store operations. Blair said making sure associates felt safe coming to work was a priority by ensuring everyone had the masks, face shields and other personal protective equipment they needed to do their jobs, and by increasing cleaning efforts. Blair said he made a point to ensure his staff knew how much he appreciated them.  “It was inspirational to see some of the same team members working every day to keep the product on the shelves,” Blair said. Goodrow, who managed a staff of 90 associates at the Cascade D&W Fresh Market during 2020, said store guests helped to support staff when they were working long hours. Shoppers purchased gift cards for staff which helped to provide snacks and meals, Goodrow said. A sense of appreciation and teamwork as associates pitched in across departments as needed helped Goodrow and her staff through the stressful moments. “What kept us going each day was -- we as a team, at our store and also across the company,” Goodrow said. “The company supplied us with masks, sanitizers, gloves – everything we needed to feel safe and supported during that time.” This blog is part of a series highlighting essential workers who stepped up during the COVID-19 pandemic. Read other stories in the series:
Photo credit: Getty Images 
MI Blues Perspectives is sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, a nonprofit, independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association