Impact of Pandemic on SMBs: In Conversation with a Grocery Store Manager

Impact of Pandemic on SMBs: In Conversation with a Personal Trainer

Categories & Conversations is our series of articles that provide insights about the behavior and needs of different SMB categories, with an emphasis on their use and needs for digital technologies.

This is my conversation with Dave, the manager of an upscale grocery/deli in the Pacific Heights neighborhood in San Francisco. Dave’s store is one of a family-owned chain of nine stores in the San Francisco area. The chain is considered “progressive” and also expensive, with many organic items, delicacies, and high-quality prepared foods.

Q:How is your store doing in this lockdown?

Our business dropped for a few days at the start of the lockdown. But then it picked back up once people understood the new rules, particularly the limit on the number of shoppers we allow in the store. Our deli department boomed at first, but now that a lot of restaurants are offering take-out, our deli sales have dropped to a more normal level.

We also had to remove certain features, like the salad bar and the big kettles of homemade soup. We replaced those with packaged versions. (One of my regulars commented that the store doesn’t smell as wonderful as it used to.) It took us a week or so to make all the adjustments.

Q:How is your financial situation?

Our revenues have actually increased somewhat from pre-lockdown. Even though our total traffic is down slightly, the average basket size is larger.

Q:Do you expect to apply for a government-guaranteed emergency loan, such as a loan under the Paycheck Protection Program?

No. We’re doing OK. We haven’t cut back on our staff or hours. We’ve actually added several employees to help with things like deliveries and managing the incoming flow of shoppers. I know that some other locations may be adding butchers and prepared food cooks.

Q:Do you expect to use more digital technology once things return to normal?

I don’t really know. There’s an IT department in our HQ that handles these decisions—it’s not up to the individual stores. Our delivery business has picked up a lot. Our delivery partner is Instacart, and it seems to be working well. My guess is that the current increase in our delivery volume will be lasting, at least to a large degree. Habits are being changed.

We also have a blog and online recipes. I think that’s been getting more traffic, but I don’t know if it has generated more revenues for the individual stores. As for other digital features, I really don’t know right now. I’m too focused on keeping things flowing smoothly.

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