Clint Mahlman, president and COO, London Drugs

Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures; grocery retailers and food manufacturers have implemented such measures to ensure that Canadians continue to have access to safe food. Grocers have modified their in-store practices and suppliers have changed manufacturing processes and their supply chains to address unprecedented demand. “In Their Own Words”  brings the behind-the-scenes stories to Grocery Business' readers.

Clint Mahlman, president and COO, London Drugs Limited

Crisis leadership initiatives

At London Drugs the health and safety of our staff, customers and greater communities has always been our highest priority.

London Drugs acted quickly in introducing proactive safety measures in our 82 stores as well as finding new and innovative ways to support our customers and local communities.

Our in-store education and awareness efforts to reinforce the need for physical distancing includes regularly updated in-store signage, overhead announcements, arrows on floors, and line-up control separation measures. Using our traffic counting and video monitoring systems, we limit the number of customers per department and per square foot to provide adequate physical distance. In addition to installing cough/sneeze guards and implementing hourly deep cleaning routines, we have also increased the air exchange through our HVAC systems. We've sourced significant amounts of personal protection equipment (PPE) and ordered from around the globe.

We recognize this is a very stressful time for our employees and their families. We have been encouraging them to take advantage of our employee and family assistant programs. Together with other online support tools to help them manage and build resiliency, we have been sending out a series of physical and mental health tips. Where licensed to do so, our employees have been given first-in-line access to online doctors to help manage concerns about their physical health and to prevent the need to physically attend doctors’ offices.

We're also taking care of the vulnerable and supporting our local communities; for example for seniors, we launched an email helpline allowing seniors to send help requests directly to London Drugs staff who can help ensure they receive essential items or medications they require. We opened stores early for special hours to support the most vulnerable who are considered high-risk or who may require additional assistance. 

London Drugs was first to provide priority shopping hours for healthcare workers and first responders during the last hour of the store’s opening. Firefighters, police officers, ambulance paramedics, active military personnel and frontline healthcare workers including hospital staff can get their shopping done at London Drugs with a decreased chance of close contact with other customers.

We’ve supported our local communities with donations of phones to keep seniors isolated in care homes connected to the ones they love. And we have collaborated with the United Way to connect ready and willing volunteers with vulnerable people right in their own neighbourhood - offering to help with food delivery, home maintenance work and other assistance during COVID-19. All London Drugs stores and LondonDrugs.com are accepting donations for the United Way with funds going to United Way COVID-19 initiatives.

London Drugs was also first to offer support to the Girl Guides of Canada to be able to deliver their Girl Guide cookies anywhere in the country, and we have sold more than 80,000 boxes to date. We have shipped to almost every province and territory including Nunavut, the Yukon and Northwest Territories. 

To support our fellow Canadian businesses, London Drugs is relaunching our Proudly Canadian campaign. Soon customers will see in stores and online at LondonDrugs.com, products highlighted in one central place featuring our local Canadian entrepreneurs’ products.  

Impact on the supply chain

London Drugs has an ongoing Business Continuity Committee that constantly reviews threats to the business. When COVID-19 was first identified as a potential supply chain threat, London Drugs begin preparing for and responding to the health and supply chain threat immediately.

Our buyers have been scouring the globe and working with traditional partners, along with working with new suppliers to ensure the supply of essentials for our customers. While there have been significant challenges for our buyers, their creativity and our suppliers’ support have been amazing.

We also remain nimble enough to shift to less conventional supply and distribution chains when the opportunity arises.

What is unprecedented is the demand for the same product types at the same time worldwide.  Our suppliers, shipping and importing agents, our trucking companies and our buyers are working incredibly hard to source and bring to our shelves as quickly as we can the in-demand products.

Your business takeaways from this experience

Along with the Retail Council of Canada (RCC), London Drugs has been working collaboratively with other major retailers in Canada. From coordinating and sharing best practices nationally, to advising the Federal and Provincial governments about how retail can support the government’s health agenda, to working together to keep the supply chain moving.

Another takeaway is how incredible and resilient our staff throughout the company have been. It’s a scary time from them and their families, and we’ve had some very bad behaviours from a small percentage of customers and opportunists. Despite those challenges, our staff have rallied to support their customers and communities. We are always very proud of them, and they have been particularly remarkable through this crisis.

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