How this independent retailer is making its customers feel safe

27 March, 2020 by Deborah Jackson

When the COVID-19 outbreak first began affecting businesses a few weeks ago, John McCauley’s first thought was of protecting his staff and his customers.

John McCauley runs two independent bottle shops in the Port Stephens area; McCauley’s Bottle Shop in Salamander Bay and Paul’s Corner Bottle Shop in Salt Ash.

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“We’ve shifted the goals in the business,” says McCauley. “Goal number one is that we all stay healthy through all of this; and goal number two is that we come out the other end without anybody losing any hours of work. If in six months’ time we can say that is how we got through this, then we’re going to be really proud.”

As the situation with COVID-19 began to escalate and more and more cases have been confirmed around Australia, McCauley decided he needed to act quickly to protect his staff and to make his stores a “safe haven” for customers.

“We’ve been trying different ideas in each shop to see what works best,” he says. “In one of those shops we stopped accepting cash very early on. We think we were one of the first shops, if not the first in the state that stopped accepting cash.

“We knew it was important to take a really strong stance straight up. And what has been really interesting is that we’re in a strip of shops and while we got a fair bit of negative feedback initially, now one by one all of the shops have followed suit.

“Now, in that strip of shops people feel like it’s a safe place to come and do their shopping because the retailers are all taking this situation seriously.”

In McCauley’s other store, they have taken the old retailing rule of ‘no shirt, no service’ to a new level, introducing a ‘no hand wash, no service’ policy. They’ve introduced a hand washing and sanitising area near to the counter and have received a great deal of positive feedback from customers.

“Most people are coming in and saying, ‘thank you so much for doing this.’”

They’ve also decided that COVID-19 is a dirty word within the store and have implemented code words amongst staff to remind each other to change the subject if conversations start to go down a Coronavirus path.

“We decided that we’re not going to talk about COVID-19 in our shops because it is all people are hearing about at the moment.

“We have a code word, and if anyone hears that we’ve started chatting about the coronavirus too much they’ll say, ‘hey does anybody know what the weather is supposed to be like for the rest of the week?’ And it’s our way of stopping the conversation and allowing our customers the chance to get away from it for a moment.”

McCauley has also fast tracked the implementation of a home delivery service, which they’ve called ‘Knock and Run’ to make light of social distancing measures.

With pubs, clubs and bars all being forced to close their doors as a part of the Government’s measures to slow the spread of COVID-19, so far bottle shops have been allowed to continue to trade. And it is hoped that they will remain considered an essential service for Australians.

As McCauley says: “I think being able to drink responsibly will help a lot of people get through in isolation. It’s part of our lifestyle.

“I just want to let people know that we’ll be ok, we’re all going to get through this. As long as we’re doing all of the right things, we’ll be ok.”

If you’re a retailer and would like to share how you’re adapting to get through these challenging times then I would love to hear from you. Please reach out to Deb Jackson on djackson@intermedia.com.au.