The aroma of coffee is palpable upon entering this independent supermarket in the city of Hialeah, in South Florida. If I take a few steps to the right where there is a small but cozy section of delicious guava cakes, flan, and fresh custard, I revitalize my cherished Latin culture.
Before arriving at the pastry shop, one has the pleasure of contemplating the freshly organized produce section where green bananas, avocados, mangoes, and taro stand out.
There are movement and activity of shoppers and suppliers as usual, but there are some notable differences: All customers and employees are wearing masks and maintaining social distance.
This is the new normal experienced due to the coronavirus at the National Market #2, the Hispanic independent supermarket located in Hialeah, South Florida. The owner’s name is Carlos Hernandez, known as “Carlitos” to most of his loyal customers who are of Cuban descent.
Hernández comments, “If there is one thing that stands out from this pandemic, it is that independent supermarkets are perfectly positioned to respond more effectively to the needs of consumers when compared to large chains. In unpredictable and changing circumstances, flexibility, speed in making adjustments is the essence of being an independent and competitive advantage. ”
First priority: employees
National Market # 2, has been under Hernández’s management for 21 years and currently has about 50 employees.
“When Covid-19 started to take its course, my first concern was to protect my employees, but it was also necessary to think about the safety of my customers and all the others who enter the store. I saw that it was urgent to sit down to write a protocol to guide all the activities. We actually implement the CDC recommended prevention measures as quickly or even more quickly than many chains,” said Hernández.
Employees at the independent supermarket had the option to stay home from the beginning of the pandemic, but none chose this alternative. In the first week of the crisis, they gave all employees personal protective equipment that included masks, masks, and gloves.
At the entrance of the store, they carry out a control of the number of people who enter and have a gel station to disinfect their hands. Around the establishment, there are several units to disinfect hands. Social distancing protocols are applied inside the store, and they close access to the public at night one hour earlier than usual to clean the entire premises.
Hernández’s National Market # 2 is a member of the National Supermarket Association (NSA), Florida Chapter. As such, members take the opportunity to exchange information, contacts, and jointly seek solutions to obstacles that arise.
“We help each other, and for the challenges related to the coronavirus, we have had several consultations to extract the best practices,” added Hernández.
Products available during Coronavirus pandemic
Thanks to Hernández’s flexibility and autonomy, he managed to find multiple supply sources during these difficult times. For these reasons, his independent supermarket had no major problems due to shortages of products such as toilet paper, flour, and water.
Hernández explained that “after running the store for a long time, you know many of your clients by name. Many of my customers are older adults, and as a risk group for Covid-19, I work hard to ensure that I have the products they need the most.”
Given the circumstances, Hernández tells us that they have been doing relatively well in sales since the pandemic began, but it is not a buoyant situation either. “Similar to when we have hurricane threats, there is a strong initial supply purchase and then leveling off. The pandemic has been similar but has lasted longer. “
The “new normal” for the independent supermarket
Looking towards the future, Hernández believes that we will not return soon to a situation of “normality” as before the pandemic. Perhaps never, he says.
“I have to think about my consumers and be attentive to their needs. Clearly, there will be more sales opportunities for products that we do not typically handle in large quantities, such as gel hand sanitizers, masks, gloves, etc. In general, we foresee growth for the cleaning segment. All the contagion prevention measures that we have taken will continue for a long time,” said Hernández.
Carlos Hernández has his priorities in order to run his independent supermarket. To be attentive to the needs of his loyal consumers and at the same time protect them when they go to buy groceries.
What’s been your coronavirus experience as a store owner?