Paul Wood, Giant Tiger

Since the pandemic began, the grocery industry has been at the forefront, rapidly adapting and implementing measures to ensure that Canadians continue to have access to safe food. “In Their Own Words”  brings the behind-the-scenes stories of retailers and suppliers to Grocery Business' readers.

Paul Wood, president and COO, Giant Tiger

Crisis leadership initiatives

Internally we began to monitor and prepare for the impact of the virus as it developed early in the year. However, much of what has transpired since the pandemic was declared has been managed as it happened and as the crisis unfolded. Our Pandemic Team has been the nerve centre of our internal response, analyzing and distributing vital information and updates based on the rapidly changing directives from health authorities and government leaders. And while our teams across the country have had to rise to the challenges presented to their specific area of expertise, our active response to COVID-19 has centred around three key areas: safety, communications and helping others.  

As an essential retailer due to the significant portion of our business that is driven by our grocery offering, we had to ensure the safety and security of our customers and our staff in our stores across the country that have remained open throughout this crisis. In addition, we had to protect our staff in our Distribution Centres to ensure product kept flowing and that our customers could access what they needed in-store or online. I’m impressed by the energy and efforts of our employees who mobilized quickly to implement safety measures in our more than 250 stores across Canada. Modifications to our in-store shopping experience, such as one-way shopping lanes, having our associates wear masks or face coverings, additional cleaning and sanitization protocols and shields at our checkouts, have been just some of the measures implemented to maintain a safe and healthy shopping environment. And given not everyone is comfortable or physically able to visit our stores in-person, we’ve redirected additional resources to support our teams working to provide a seamless e-commerce experience for our customers across the country who choose to engage with us online.

Second, we adapted and developed a revised communications strategy to ensure we stayed connected as a team and also with our customers. We had to adapt our internal communications strategies to ensure we had open lines of communication with our diverse, cross-country workforce of almost 10,000 employees as our support office workforce suddenly switched to work remotely. Given the COVID-19 environment remains fluid, we communicate daily by email, video or social media with the goal of creating a continuous feedback loop that allows our executive leadership team to provide guidance, answer questions, and receive feedback from all areas of our business. This helps to ensure everyone is supported and up to date with policies and procedures. In addition, our marketing team has pivoted rapidly to modify our customer communications and strategies to ensure we connect and communicate in authentic and meaningful ways with our customers and to keep them apprised of our operational changes while supporting them through the challenges posed by COVID-19. Our team has done a great job of adjusting to the new reality we all face.

And finally, staying true to our values, we have been actively supporting our communities and those in need. There have been so many people who have been negatively impacted by the effects of COVID-19, that despite the disruption and impacts to our own business, we believe it is a key responsibility and vital role to give back to the communities across the country that our friends, neighbours and customers call home. That support has taken many forms over the course of the pandemic. From our national #ThankYou Sessions Livestream Concert Series in support of Food Banks Canada or an initial donation of 20,000 N-95 masks to the medical community here in Ottawa, to many local acts of kindness and generosity large and small by our franchise partners and stores across each of the communities we serve, this crisis has allowed us to come together as a company and help those in need in many ways.

Impact on Giant Tiger’s supply chain

Like many other Canadian retailers, we experienced temporary shortages of high-demand COVID-19 items such as paper and sanitizing products as we all adjusted to the rapid shifts in consumer buying habits. We have worked with our vendor partners to adjust forward promotional planning to assist with their catch-up efforts in key categories, but overall the grocery supply chain has been resilient and has managed the huge fluctuations in demand brought on by the virus. Our internal supply chain is strong and our team has done a great job of managing the swings in product mix led by changes in customer demand as we have moved through the various phases of the pandemic response.

We’re very thankful for the hard work of our employees across our company for their efforts in ensuring our shelves stayed stocked for our customers. From those placing orders with vendors to those who drive our transport trucks through to those stocking shelves in our stores, everyone has risen to the challenge and played an important role to allow Giant Tiger to fulfil its responsibility and serve our customers in communities across the country. And as customers’ needs shifted to other categories such as apparel or general merchandise and seasonal product in recent weeks, our teams have had to pivot in response once again.

Your business takeaways from this experience

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed many things both externally and internally. Many lessons are there to be had – the key will be the application of these learnings collectively as we move forward. Several specific takeaways merit special mention however.

First, the agility required to respond to this challenge is a lesson and motivation for action-oriented responses to business opportunities and challenges in a similar cadence in future. There are material productivity gains to be unlocked by applying some of the quick-response discipline that has been required in recent weeks. Next, the level of cooperation experienced across teams, across industry competitors and between industry and government to respond to COVID-19 has been remarkable and encouraging. The future will benefit if we as leaders are able to preserve this spirit of collaborative attention at the key issues facing us. Thirdly, the change that positive leadership can bring to customer behaviour and societal norms in times of crisis has been amplified. Consumer support for safety measures implemented across retail in a very short period of time has been incredible.

The last two takeaways I would point to centre on our customers and our team.

Our customers’ behaviour throughout COVID-19 is a testament to the power of gratitude. People often say that a crisis brings out the best in people, and I can say without a shadow of a doubt that we’ve seen this first-hand from our customers. We continue to receive a staggering number of customer emails, handwritten notes, kind gestures and phone calls expressing their gratitude for the work of our frontline staff and our stores who have worked tirelessly so our customers can take care of their families. These messages are valuable and powerful tools of encouragement and we make it a priority to share them with our employees across the country.

Finally, the pandemic has proven the adage that we’re only as strong as our team. I’m proud and thankful for the way everyone on Team Tiger has stepped up in response to this crisis and has made a positive difference during a very challenging time. Despite having their own situations to manage at home, they have set aside personal fears and concerns either to serve our customers with a smile or to support our stores and online business through the demands of COVID-19. We have ensured their efforts have been recognized, rewarded and appreciated throughout, but I can’t say Thank You often enough for the sacrifices they have made, and I continue to be impressed by their resiliency. Giant Tiger’s response has truly been a team effort.

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