‘Be kind, be patient’
The acting CEO of the Channel Islands Co-operative Society describes how there has been a huge demand on the business – and what it is doing to help the community
‘THIS really has touched every area of what we do,’ says acting chief executive officer Mark Cox in relation to coronavirus. The Channel Islands Co-operative Society is predominately a food retailer but also has businesses in the travel, pharmacy, medical and funeral services sectors as well its support office in Jersey and hub in Guernsey.
‘We’ve had to support our colleagues during what has been a very challenging and difficult time. Our initial work started ahead of any real announcements as we saw it escalating in the UK and further afield. We went into a lot of serious planning around business continuity and we had a team in place looking at various different scenarios to make sure we could get our planning right.’
Some 90% of support staff are now working from home, with the IT team doing a ‘fantastic job’ in supporting this transition that included purchasing additional kit and distributing that to allow those staff to work safely from home. Meanwhile, the food stores have been extremely busy, with the HR team also focused on supporting those front-line workers. ‘We’ve had to make sure we’re looking after those teams as well,’ says Mark – not least with 13% of the workforce having to self-isolate or go off sick for various other reasons.
Looking after colleagues and the community
Mark stresses the determination to support colleagues who had done an incredible job. ‘The HR team have been absolutely fantastic,’ he adds. ‘We’ve been working with people in hospitality or those that are self-employed or those that are looking for work and we’ve recruited an additional 80 people.
‘So in Guernsey, we worked with the Old Government House Hotel closely, and in Jersey with the Dolan hotel group, and other hospitality businesses, to take on some colleagues from those businesses that were affected as a result of trade diminishing in those areas.’
Mark says the extra staff taken on in Jersey and Guernsey were taken on to ‘help out predominately food store colleagues in dealing with the extra trade and extra restrictions we have got in place in managing our operations now’.
‘Those 80 people will have replaced some of those people we’ve had off sick but also dealing with additional duties we have got in store as a result of having to change our operations. Social distancing has meant that we have had to make a lot of changes to the way we operate our stores.’
That has meant managing the number of people who can be in any particular building at any one time as well as additional cleaning and sanitising for areas such as trolleys, baskets and checkouts plus managing and marshalling queues and people’s behaviour within the stores.
‘On the whole our customers have been absolutely fantastic in adhering to social distancing, but on the odd occasion you have to remind people.’
Shopping trends and strong supply lines
We return to the subject of food shopping since the coronavirus started to take hold. Tinned goods, toilet rolls and personal hygiene products have all been in demand.
‘The volumes that we’ve been put through are 20-25% up on a normal period that we’d normally expect this time of year. So it’s significant increases for us.’
In addition we discuss how resilient supply chains are amid the pandemic. There’s a reassuring message from Mark.
‘Without doubt the supply of food coming into the islands is good. We’ve got [ferry freight operator] Condor doing a fantastic job in ensuring that lifeline freight route continues.
‘What we have experienced, and all food retailers will have experienced, is these sudden high peaks in demand cause short-term problems within the supply chain. So, the amount of toilet roll that has been sold has been absolutely incredible. That causes short-term availability problems as manufacturers have to respond to that, retailers have to respond in terms of getting that product back into warehouse and back out into store.
‘So, it’s caused some short term problems.
‘But in general terms the supply chain is very resilient and we will be back to normal availability levels very, very quickly as long as people remain calm and don’t panic. We have certainly seen things calm down.’
A debt of gratitude
The interview concludes where it started, with the staff and the community. ‘We’re here for our members, our owners of the organisation, and trying to maintain a good level of service despite the issues. For me it’s all about our great colleagues and we owe them a huge debt of gratitude for the amazing work that they’ve been doing in these extraordinary times. They really have gone over and above and I couldn’t be more proud of the team.
‘So my message to members, the owners of the business, and customers generally is be kind, be patient. There is still a huge demand on the business. If you see colleagues working away on the shop floor in any one our outlets then say hello, give them a smile, because they’ll really appreciate it.’