the supply chain and covid-19

By Hayden Sadler

Supermarkets act as an easy way for people to grab the supplies they need, but what happens when stores have trouble getting the supplies and food accordingly? How can one manage a supermarket when they can’t find workers? Lately retailers have had to balance both a lack of workers and supplies with the demand for products from customers.

Working retail will always entail a ton of interaction from workers with customers, but that is only scratching the surface of their responsibilities. For Brandon Crawley, grocery manager at a Tops Market in Skaneateles, NY, these responsibilities are a job. Crawley has worked at Tops Friendly markets for nearly two years. As grocery manager, he is responsible for stocking shelves, checking for and removing expired products, and building displays for the products being carried. 

“The hard part is making sure we have a display for the products we are trying to sell,” Crawley said, referring to the shortages of products.

This work isn’t universal to the store. In the deli, manager Laura Sigonia carries another set of responsibilities. 

“I’m responsible for maintaining worker safety, training new employees, keeping cleaning logs updated,” Sigonia said. “I’ve worked here (TOPS) since I was 18, and one of the things that’s changed is the amount of paperwork we have to complete now.”

Sigonia is also responsible for ordering supplies to the department, such as meats and cheeses.

In addition to increased workloads, both Crawley and Sigonia mentioned the negative impact that various shortages have had on the store and the departments it contains. In the deli, Sigonia struggles to get a hold of different meats and cheese brands that customers will buy. Back in the grocery department, Crawley tells a similar story regarding his supply chain issues. 

“Products like cat food can take anywhere from days to a week to come in sometimes,” Crawley said.

Cat food isn’t all that’s short in the grocery department, as both dairy products and other perishables such as sour cream are in short supply. If these issues get worse, then there are potentially two departments where people can’t find the products they want.

What often gets overlooked is the source of these shortages is labor. Both departments are battling to find the supplies they need, and yet the supplies can’t get there. Both Sigonia and Crawley explained that, if there are no drivers to bring the products, then the products can’t sell and the store suffers. This worker shortage isn’t just hurting the producers that the store relies on, but also the store as well. Both managers had thoughts as to why workers are hard to come by right now. 

Crawley said, “the pay isn’t entirely competitive right now for many,” and there’s a policy with the union where, “we don’t get (vacation) time until three years have passed.”

Similarly, Sigonia mentions incentives, of which “there aren’t many.”

Why would workers want to stick around in a time like this?

Shelves of a grocery store. Photo by Fikri Rasyid on unsplash.com.

Despite the many stressors in life, the customer-worker relationship remains positive. Customer service is a key component in working retail, both Crawley and Sigonia mentioned. The relationship between workers and customers can be extremely close, and this idea of making “friends with the regulars,” and “building rapport,” as Cralwey said, is a great thing.

“Retailers are here to help you get what you need, not to complicate your life,” Crawley said.

Sigonia shares a similar point of view regarding the customers — one of optimism and hope.

“I think people just need to know that things will get better … Kindness goes a long way,” Sigonia said. Retail makes the world go around, even in times where supplies and labor are short, “the relationships that are formed are truly special,” she said.

Unfortunately, companies are struggling to not only get supplies, but also to hold on to workers. Unless employers listen to the stories and encourage healthy customer and employee relationships, then they cannot hope to properly incentivize more workers to join.

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