• warning: Parameter 2 to ed_classified_link_alter() expected to be a reference, value given in /home/soloneconomist/www/www/includes/common.inc on line 2968.
  • warning: Parameter 2 to ed_classified_link_alter() expected to be a reference, value given in /home/soloneconomist/www/www/includes/common.inc on line 2968.

Service with safety in mind

NL True Value offers delivery and pick-up service
North Liberty True Value Hardware’s Ryan Kennedy and owner Doug Christner have brought curbside pick-up and free delivery services to their store at 55 S. Dubuque St. in North Liberty in response to the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic.

NORTH LIBERTY– The COVID-19 epidemic has led to many changes in local businesses with some forced to close for the duration, and others having to alter how they serve their customers in an effort to “flatten the curve” of the number of infected people.
North Liberty True Value Hardware was among the first to shift their business model as they initiated curbside pick-up and delivery services early on.
“We did it right when the news came out,” owner Doug Christner said. “It was one of the first things we did. We posted on our sign out front and advertised it on our Facebook page.”
As an essential business, Christner is able to keep his doors open to customers, but offering pick-up and delivery alternatives provides not only convenience, but safety.
“We’re trying to keep everybody safe, both our employees and our customers. So the less physical contact we can have, or keep the proximity as far apart as possible… I think that’s just a real benefit.” Inside the store, boxes in front of the check-out counter provides additional distance between cashiers and customers, while lines on the floor encourage proper social distancing.
The curbside pick-up is an easy process, he said.
“You call in (319-665-2386), we’ll gather up the items and then we’ll have a total. We give that to you and then we take your information over the phone (which is entered in immediately, and not written down to keep the process as secure as possible). Then we package it up and as soon as you pull up, we run it out almost immediately.”
Two parking spots in front of the store have been designated specifically for curbside pick-ups to make the process as easy as possible. “They pull up, and they call us, we carry it out, and they’re on their way,” Christner explained.
Transitioning to curbside pick-up has meant changes for the staff with all hands on deck taking care of customers and answering the phone during busy periods.
“We’re getting better at it, there’s a learning curve to it,” said Christner. “We’ve created some forms so we get all of the right information. We have the customer’s number in case we need to call them back, and we can put down the color of the customer’s vehicle… which is probably the most helpful.”
For Christner and manager Ryan Kennedy, it’s like a trip back in time.
“We jump-started our business,” Kennedy said. “Thinking back to all the years I’ve spent in retail and the hardware business; that was the thing in the past, to deliver all the time. Not that we stopped doing that, but with all that’s gone on in the past month, if it’s close by, it’s not a big deal. I’ve delivered stuff on the way home, and that older generation, they just like that service. People just really appreciate a delivery. If we have the time and it’s not crazy busy here, it’s the easiest thing to do.”
Christner agreed. “We knocked out four real quick yesterday (April 8). We did two, came back, and there were two more waiting.” Sometimes the service is even quicker than expected. “I had a guy call who wanted some topsoil delivered. It was right on my way home, and he called around 4 p.m. and I said I could have it there around 4:30 or 5, and he goes, ‘Today?’ and I said yeah and he said, ‘Oh, I’m not quite ready for it yet, I was just checking to see what your service was!’”
Christner got his start in the hardware business while he was still in high school at a True Value store in downtown Iowa City as a deliveryman. “Every day after school there was a dozen deliveries to be made,” he recalled. “And now it’s like it’s gone full-circle because I could end my career doing deliveries again. It’s kind of neat, and you’re helping people out.”
Many people are hesitant to go out shopping, out of either a fear of contracting the virus, or even of passing it on to others, Christner said.
“I don’t blame them,” he noted. “We’re all concerned, and if we can alleviate that fear, we can deliver it, they don’t have to touch us, or even see us, we can take their credit card over the phone so there’s no touching that way, it’s just making everything safe and trying to do business in this environment.”
Christner said his employees have really stepped up.
“That’s been really, really encouraging, especially with the cashiers, our frontline people,” he said. “They’ve really embraced this whole concept, and it’s really our way going forward. I don’t see it ending when this virus situation is over. I think we’re still going to do a lot of deliveries and curbside because of the convenience, and it’s safer.”
While many equate hardware stores with paint, tools and lawncare, North Liberty True Value also stocks cleaning supplies and home repair products essential in times like this.
“We’re also unique in that we have gas pumps (gas stations have also been deemed essential),” Christner added.
Kennedy pointed out while many home repair professionals, such as plumbers, are still making service calls, more and more people are opting to make simple repairs themselves, again to minimize the risk of exposure. “When this first started we saw a spike in people fixing things in their house where now people are getting kind-of stir crazy in their homes and doing a project here and there like painting,” he said.
“I think we’ve sold more paint in the last two weeks than we have in the last year,” Christner added. “They’re at home and it’s something they didn’t have time for before, and now they have all the time they need.”
Lawn and garden items have also been popular, Christner said. “People want to get outside, especially when we get some nicer weather.”
In contrast, in some states with strict stay-at-home orders in effect, lawn and garden products are prohibited from being sold as they have been considered “non-essential.”
North Liberty True Value Hardware is located at 55 S. Dubuque St. and is open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Christner said while some businesses have cut back on their hours, he’s opted to keep the hours the same in an effort to avoid condensing customers in the store at one time. “Customers are really good,” he said. “They know. If you watch, you just see people are keeping their distance.”
“They’re making their purchase and getting out,” Kennedy added.
“I think we feel lucky living in this kind of a community where people believe science and really try to be safe,” said Christner.
Part of the challenge for Christner and Kennedy has been keeping up with consumers’ demands. For example, facemasks are being sent to stores on an allocation basis. “You can only get a few at a time. And when they come in, you get back on the list to get more,” Christner said.
Toilet paper has been in the news with people inexplicably buying up vast quantities, making it also an item in short supply.
“We got a case in, it was gone within an hour,” he said.
Antibacterial products are also tough to keep in stock, he said, adding True Value owns its own paint factory and has obtained FDA approval to manufacture their own hand sanitizer, which should be available within the next couple of weeks.
“We’ll be having it available in quarts and gallons,” Christner said, pointing out the difficulties other producers such as Cedar Ridge Distillery and Raining Rose (in Cedar Rapids) have had obtaining small bottles for individual use, and added the larger sizes make multiple refills possible of the smaller containers.
He also stressed the importance of supporting locally owned businesses, and not just during a time of crisis. “A local business will spend probably 75-80 percent of the money they take in back locally,” he said.
A national chain is almost the complete opposite, he said. “You’re looking at maybe 20 percent if you’re lucky.” Most of that, he explained, is payroll. “Everything they do is done nationally, the majority of their money does not stay local,” he explained. “With local businesses, even now, that money is going to stay in the community and keep us going. Please, shop local. It helps all of us.”