Retailers Reflect on a Year of Covid-19

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They’ve strengthened their online presences and e-commerce capabilities, broadened their vendor relationships — and survived

Last year, just a few months into the coronavirus pandemic, we checked in with retailers to see how Covid-19 was impacting their businesses. At the time, shutdowns were just lifting and demand for bedding was stronger than retailers — or their manufacturer partners — could have imagined. Stores were relatively quiet but retailers’ websites were busy.

We’ve all learned a lot in the past year and adjusted to countless changes both big and small, so we thought it was a good time to check back in with those same retailers to ask them to reflect on the past year. Most were understandably proud of how their teams have embraced the many adjustments to how they work and how they sell.

As Joe Nashif says, he is impressed that he and his team “could do it.” “We adjusted to these big changes and kept on going,” says Nashif, president of US-Mattress.com, an omnichannel retailer based in Brighton, Michigan.

Read on for more insights.

1. What is the single biggest change your company has made since the pandemic began?

“Miskelly Furniture increased its online presence in response to the pandemic. We became fully e-commerce capable. We added web chat for both pre- and post-purchase inquiries. Lastly, we worked with AVB (our e-commerce provider) and our own internal team to streamline our website, making it more consumer friendly.” — Alan Vonder Haar (better known as “Dr. V”), director of bedding for Miskelly Furniture, a Jackson, Mississippi-based furniture and mattress chain

“We became more engaged in connecting with our customers through social media.” — Shawn Reimold with Ephrata, Pennsylvania-based Martin Furniture & Mattress. Reimold manages the store in Quarryville, Pennsylvania. The company is part of the Martin Appliance and Martin Water Conditioning family of companies.

Joe Alexander

“Our biggest change has been shifting to an online focus since our stores were closed for a time, and now we see reduced traffic to the physical stores. Our online business has increased immensely.” — Joe Alexander, founder and CEO of Nest Bedding, which is based in Albany, California, with bedding showrooms in major cities across the country

“We’ve been working remotely, and our surprise is shared by many companies: It has worked out well, so I’m not sure in what manner we’ll return to the office post-Covid.” — Joe Nashif, president of US-Mattress.com, a pioneer of mattress e-commerce based in Brighton, Michigan, with brick-and-mortar stores across the state

“I don’t believe we can point to any ‘single biggest change.’ We’ve constantly adjusted many different things, as frequently as necessary.” — Geoff Imhof, furniture and mattress buyer for Abt, a retailer of electronics, appliances, furniture, mattresses and more located in the Chicago suburb of Glenview, Illinois

2. What other long-term changes has the pandemic spurred at your company?

“Because we had to change how we worked and also rode the revenue roller coaster, we are more nimble — mentally and culturally — to make changes.” — Nashif, US-Mattress.com

“We’ve added more online support staff and are re-evaluating physical storefront expansion.” — Alexander, Nest Bedding

“We increased our digital presence in marketing, having relevant information on our website and more in-stock product.” — Reimold, Martin Furniture & Mattress

“We also implemented greater safety protocols to ensure that both our guests and associates have a clean and safe environment. We don’t see those protocols going away after the pandemic is over.” — Vonder Haar, Miskelly Furniture

3. How have the unusual and challenging past 12 months prepared your company for future unexpected events?

Geoff Imhof

“The past 12 months have hopefully taught both retailers and vendors that it’s incredibly important to not become too reliant on one particular source for goods and services. Historically, we’ve tried to ensure long-term success for all our business relationships. It’s important to make sure all vendors are succeeding when things are going well. It’s equally important to make sure no one vendor slips too much when the business climate changes. The vendors who’ve experienced challenges this past year are ones who seem to have limited or even single sources for their raw materials.” — Imhof, Abt

“We are more flexible, in a better cash flow position and ready for anything!” — Alexander, Nest Bedding

Alan Vonder Haar

“This pandemic has taught us the importance of remaining flexible. We’ve had to become comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty.” — Vonder Haar, Miskelly Furniture

“It has made us take a look at the products we offer and the sustainability of various vendors, as well as expanding our product lines where it makes sense.” — Reimold, Martin Furniture & Mattress

“As the shutdown happened in March (2020), we reacted quickly to work-from-home arrangements and the drop in business. So I think that prepared us for any future event.” — Nashif, US-Mattress.com

4. What do you wish you had known a year ago before the pandemic started?

“Had we known about the supply chain shortages, limited product availability and shipping delays, we would have built a larger in-stock supply to minimize delays.” — Reimold, Martin Furniture & Mattress

“We wish we had known that the business was going to recover so quickly. We initially we cut back on inventory. This made it harder for us to fully capitalize on demand when the business exploded.”— Vonder Haar, Miskelly Furniture

Joe Nashif

“I wish we had known things would not turn out so bad, businesswise, it would have been less stressful. (Obviously, it’s a tragedy for many people, and we are fortunate.)” — Nashif, US-Mattress.com

“I wish I would have known the stock market was going to continue to flourish despite the challenges of the pandemic.” — Imhof, Abt

“I wish I had known stores were going to be so deeply impacted.” — Alexander, Nest Bedding

5. What is the biggest lesson your company has learned from the pandemic?

Shawn Reimold

“While we may not be able to control what happens around us, we are able to control how we respond. It pays to invest in quality teammates! We are proud of the efforts they put fourth each and every day to treat customers the way they would want to be treated!” — Reimold, Martin Furniture & Mattress

“You can’t assume everything can’t change in a heartbeat!” — Alexander, Nest Bedding

“If you’re able to provide a great customer experience, people will find you. As other similar businesses were slow to adapt to the challenges in the marketplace, Abt just plowed through.” — Imhof, Abt

“The importance of communication, both internal and external, has been our greatest lesson. We now communicate with our guest (about their order) every two weeks, even if there is nothing new to update. We also share more information with our sales associates in order for them to more fully understand the supply chain and order process. This is probably the first time we have shared with them how the sausage is made.” — Vonder Haar, Miskelly Furniture

6. What is the biggest lesson you personally have taken away from the past 12 months?

“It was great to see how our team responded to the crisis. Everybody stepped up and we came through as a team.” — Nashif, US-Mattress.com

“Trust God, seek advice, learn from mistakes and continue to trust our team.” — Reimold, Martin Furniture & Mattress

“That life is fragile — it can all turn in an instant. And that my staff are superheroes.” — Alexander, Nest Bedding