DuBOIS — Though it’s been a challenging time in the grocery industry, Martin’s Food and Pharmacy Manager Joe Kelly said he’s been very impressed with the team of people who have been working at the DuBois store during the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s been a little bit stressful trying to implement all the changes that we need to do to try to keep both our team members and our customers safe while still being open and providing what we feel is a very necessary to the community,” said Kelly. “It’s been challenging, but it’s been going very well and our team has been phenomenal as far as being willing to adjust schedules. And we have people that are working in different departments and trying to help out. And it’s been very rewarding seeing the team all come together, and what they were willing to do to try to maintain as much normalcy as possible with all the changes we’ve gone through in the last seven or eight weeks.”
Kelly, of Treasure Lake, DuBois, was hired at Martin’s 10 years ago as an assistant store manager.
“I was promoted to store manager, and then I went out on the road as a district sales manager for the company,” said Kelly. “I just recently came back in November of 2019 as the store manager.”
Although he’s been with Martin’s 10 years, Kelly said the grocery industry has been with him for his entire life because his parents owned a grocery store.
“That’s what brought us to this area in 1984, it was in the Clearfield area,” said Kelly. “I actually graduated from Kiski Area High School down near Vandergrift and took multiple courses through Cornell University over the years. I spent a lot of time doing different things in the grocery business.”
Kelly said he also trained Quarter Horses for multiple years.
“That’s what I thought I was going to be when I grew up was a cowboy, but that didn’t work out. There’s no money in that,” he said.
He went back into the family business and worked for Penn Traffic for a few years.
“I went down south and was a part-owner of a convenience store chain down in South Carolina,” said Kelly. “I moved back to the DuBois area to Treasure Lake in 2001. And owned my own bread business for a while in this area. And then again in 2010, I came to work for Martin’s.”
The grocery business has also fascinated Kelly because he enjoys meeting new people and getting to know people, especially in small areas like DuBois.
“I really like this area because you can get a personal touch with your customers,” said Kelly. “I like the fast pace of it. So it’s always something new. It’s always a different challenge, much like what we’re going through right now. In this business you would never be bored or not have exciting things happening each day.”
For awhile during the pandemic, Kelly recalls having updates three times a day.
“What you might hear at 8 in the morning would change at noon. And then again at 4 or 5,” said Kelly. “And then we’d be implementing things until 8 or 9 that night to make sure that we were ready the next morning to comply with what our company expectations were. Everything that we were doing was trying to maintain business and try to work through the guidelines of the CDC and with Gov. Wolf to try to make sure that we could follow all the proper things for social distancing while staying open.”
Kelly said Martin’s definitely saw not only an increase in business but a change in business, with adding the 6-7 a.m. hour for seniors and vulnerable people.
“That hour is very busy for our store now, where normally our business wouldn’t really pick up until 9 or 10 a.m.,” he said. “Our business definitely changed and moved more towards daylight hours and less in the evening and late evening.”
Martin’s has approximately 150 employes and hired more temporary and also permanent positons as a result of the pandemic. Martin’s also added multiple associates or team members to Martin’s Direct, the curbside pickup. Prior to the pandemic, they were averaging 85-90 orders a week, and then they were up to 350-400 orders a week.
“We have some people that are out on a leave of absence due to family members or different reasons for them to ask for a leave of absence with the company through this. So I’m honoring those requests and then trying to fulfill added positions where we’re obviously staffing the entrance and exit doors and having extra people on the front trying to direct and guide people into the quickest checkout lane,” Kelly said.
One of the most rewarding aspects during this time, said Kelly, is seeing a team of 150 people pull together, and what could get accomplished very quickly with very little direction.
“That was nothing but outstanding,” said Kelly.
The most challenging times involved processing all of the customers with the limited resources as far as registers and making sure they were in and out of the store as fast as possible, said Kelly.
“Because of the social distancing, we were only permitted to open up every other register,” he said. “I think that was the biggest challenge and then just trying to get our supply chain back intact to where we can get all the product that we order.”
Kelly said the community was very supportive of the grocery store workers, who received multiple thank you cards from customers in appreciation of making the store safe and clean.
“Our company did offer all of our hourly associates a $2 an hour raise,” said Kelly. “That was for most of April and was to stay in effect until May 30th as of right now. So that was a wonderful thing our company did, and many companies did. And I know that was very much appreciated and well-received at this store for sure.”
On the positive side of the pandemic, Kelly said it enhanced what he likes most about the grocery business.
“We’re really providing a necessity to all our customers and sometimes ... you just take it for granted and you move on,” said Kelly. “And I do think that people will have a different understanding. And as I said, we’ve had multiple people compliment us on staying open and all our associates coming to work and trying to do the best we can. So it was really nice to see.”