When Ryan Baty, owner of The Mattress Hub in Wichita, Kansas, decided to close all 12 of his retail locations in late March as a precautionary response to the coronavirus pandemic, he expected it would be a short-lived break. Two weeks, tops. After all, this was a voluntary closure to protect the health of his customers and employees; there was no local or statewide shelter-in-place order in effect.
But as April drew to an end, Baty’s stores were still shuttered – now under order of the Kansas governor – and his 50 employees were still furloughed without pay. So, when Kansas Governor Laura Kelly announced that non-essential stores like The Mattress Hub could reopen for in-person shopping beginning May 4, Baty was ready.
“When we closed on March 23, we felt like it was the right decision at the right time,” recalls Baty, who’s been in business since 2008 and carries Serta, Beautyrest, Sealy, Stearns & Foster, Tempur-Pedic and an exclusive TMH-branded line made by Restonic. “But it’s just not feasible for my staff anymore. I have to provide for these people – I have to get them back to work. I’ve watched the Big Box stores like Lowes, Home Depot and Menards, which stayed open, and they’ve been wall-to-wall with people. And, I think that I can reopen in a safer, more responsible way for my guests and my employees.”
Reopening – Responsibly
Baty, who received a loan through the federal Paycheck Protection Program, started his back-to-work efforts on April 27 before bringing his staff back into the stores on May 4. Much of the first week, he says, was spent educating team members about the new procedures and precautions The Mattress Hub has implemented.
“My wife, Alicia, is a nurse, and she created all of our new sanitation and social distancing guidelines,” Baty says. “She has a lot of friends in the field right now, so this is very important to her.”
In addition to maintaining a wider-than-recommended distance of 10-15 feet from all customers, The Mattress Hub team also takes part in a rigorous cleaning of the checkout desk – both as customers approach and after they leave.
“We’re always cleaning,” Baty says. “Not just when people come to the desk to place an order but before they come in the door and after they leave. We clean all the time, and we want our customers to see us do it. Because, if we’re advertising that we’re being safe and responsible, our guests need to see that whenever they come in the store.”
Employees also ask every customer if they would like a disposable face mask upon arrival, or if they would like team members to wear one. In addition, customers can schedule one-on-one appointments during each store’s first hour of the day to reduce their exposure to other shoppers.
While most employees were eager to return to their stores, Baty says he did have a few who expressed concerns and are choosing to delay their starts.
“We had two or three employees who weren’t ready to come back yet, and we have absolutely been open to those conversations and have honored their wishes,” he says. “There’s so much shaming going on – on both sides, from people who argue you’ve reopened too quickly as well as people who say you waited too long – but we’re respecting people’s choices and giving them grace to make the decision that’s right for them.”
“Getting Back to Work”
Although some independent retailers have struggled with product availability in recent weeks, Baty has a different challenge.
“We have three warehouses across Kansas that are filled with about $1 million in inventory,” Baty says. “We were gearing up for a big sales event in March that we had to cancel when we closed. So, now, we’re holding a ‘Getting Back to Work’ promotion and offering up to 70% off. The goal is to turn all that inventory back into cash so that when this thing flips and the plants reopen – and they will – we’ll be in an even healthier position going into the recovery.”
Baty has turned to digital promotion – mostly social media, paid search and YouTube placements – to spread his “Getting Back to Work” message. He’s also seen a sharp increase in e-commerce transactions and website chat sessions, with online orders tripling over the past few weeks.
And the response from the community hasn’t just been positive – it’s been overwhelming.
“It’s been a wonderful success,” Baty says of his stores’ reopenings. “We haven’t had one piece of negative feedback. In fact, even the people who were most adamant about the shelter-in-place order have reached out and said, ‘Hey, thanks for being responsible, finding a compromise and getting people back to work.’
“The reality is that consumers are looking at how we respond and lead in seasons like this,” Baty continues. “In the midst of chaos, there will always be an opportunity for businesses to succeed. So, if you can effectively tell your story, and you can provide a viable option in terms of price and availability, you will set yourself up for success.”
Amy Croom is the director of public relations and communications for Nationwide Marketing Group.