Retailers respond to COVID-19: London Drugs

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London’s all-consuming response to a tumultuous time.

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of articles on how retailers are responding to the COVID-19 crisis.

London Drugs of Richmond, British Columbia, has been responding significantly to the COVID-19 crisis. In Canada, food and pharmacy retail is deemed an essential service, and the government requires the stores to stay open. That creates an enormous responsibility to keep staff and customers safe.

Clint Mahlman

London Drugs has an ongoing Business Continuity Committee that constantly reviews threats to the business. When COVID-19 was first identified from its agents in Asia as a potential supply chain threat, London Drugs employed its Incident Command Structure immediately to begin preparing for and responding to the health and supply chain threat.

London Drugs has employed every practice required by provincial health officers, who direct public health in Canada, and as well has added many other layers on top of the government requirements that cover the physical protection and employee physical and mental health.

Employee and customer protection is paramount. The measures London Drugs has taken include everything from hourly and per-transaction cleaning standards to cough/sneeze guards, physical distancing signage and constant communication (like overhead announcements every six minutes), monitored front doors to limit numbers, arrows on floors to ensure customers maintain physical distance requirements while shopping, line-up control separation measures to enforce physical distancing, through to increasing the air exchange through our HVAC systems. Significant amounts of personal protection equipment (PPE) were sourced and ordered, and it has arrived or is in transit from around the globe for staff.

This is a very stressful time for our employees and their families. London Drugs has been sending out a series of physical and mental health tips and reminding employees to use the employee and family assistant programs and other online support tools to help them manage and build resiliency. Where licensed to do so, our employees have been given first-in-line access to online doctors to help manage concerns about their physical health and to prevent the need to physically go to doctors’ offices.

Employee and customer education and communication is also key. For employees, corporate updates are done every second day via electronic communication channels along with videos constantly updating staff. We believe that open, transparent and authentic communication is what employees want and need to help them through these challenging times.

External communication has been important as well to keep customers updated on health and sanitization efforts, supply chain issues, and expectations to treat staff with kindness and respect during this stressful time. Social media, and specific online landing pages are the primary means of ­communication.

London Drugs’ buyers have been scouring the globe and working with traditional partners, along with working with new suppliers to ensure that a supply of essentials for our customers is flowing as best it can. It has caused significant challenges to our procurement and supply chain, but our buyers’ creativity and our suppliers’ support has been amazing.

London Drugs and other major retailers in Canada have been working through the Retail Council of Canada (RCC) to coordinate and share best practices nationally, and advising federal and provincial governments on how retail can support the government health agenda and keep the supply chain moving. This unprecedented sharing and support of each other in the retail industry through RCC has been done with the complete knowledge and advice of Industry Canada’s Competition Bureau, which protects Canadians from anticompetitive behavior. Industry working hand in hand with government to accomplish mutual goals will be a legacy of this crisis.

Supporting community during a crisis is a core value to London Drugs. While we must keep our employees and customers safe and our communities fed and well as the first priority, we also have responded to community need. We opened early for special hours to support seniors and those who have restricted abilities. We created a special shopping hour and time for first-line health care workers and first responders after a 12-hour day shift to allow them to access the essentials they need, given so many were saying stores were closed after they got off work. We also responded to a need of the Girl Guides of Canada, whose main fundraiser — Girl Guide cookies — was stopped due to physical distancing and community health. We purchased their stock at their retail to ensure their fund­raising remained intact, and are reselling at our cost to the community with great support. We are also working with United Way with a “Hi Neighbour” campaign to connect those who have capacity to help those in our communities who are ­vulnerable.

London Drugs’ response has been all consuming to respond to the COVID-19 crisis, and the incredible teamwork and efforts our employees are showing to support their customers, their community and their company is extremely positive through this very difficult and tumultuous time.

Clint Mahlman is president and chief operating officer of London Drugs.


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