NRF’s Operation Open Doors ‘like having a roadmap’ to reopening after COVID-19

A roadmap for safely reopening retail

Operation Open Doors, led by NRF and Seyfarth LLP, provides guidance and tools that NRF members can use as they navigate reopening stores. Learn more and view resources.

Stephenson’s of Elkhart, a family owned women’s clothing store in northern Indiana, opened during the Great Depression, survived World War II and other challenges, and bounced back from the Great Recession a dozen years ago.

But owner Danny Reynolds says the store had never been through a situation like the coronavirus pandemic that forced it to close for a month and a half and presented new concerns about how to safely operate now that business is starting to resume. Unlike past incidents, there was no “we’ve seen this before” playbook to answer the dozens of questions that loomed.

Then came the announcement of NRF’s Operation Open Doors.

“We had a team meeting a couple of days ago after this came out,” Reynolds said. “I was able to sit down with everybody and literally go through the checklist on Operation Open Doors and able to delegate responsibility to different people.”

“We would have been able to find a way without this but it would have been a lot more difficult,” he said. “This is like having a roadmap in the car when you’re going somewhere you’ve never been before as opposed to just making turns and trying to figure out how to get where you’re trying to go.”

Stephenson’s is one of the thousands of small and large retailers across the country – from independent Main Street stores to global brands – that NRF set out to assist by launching Operation Open Doors late last month.

Developed with input from hundreds of retailers brought together by NRF, the initiative provides operational guidelines and considerations in four areas: health and safety, people and personnel, logistics and supply chain, and litigation and liability. An online resource center includes an interactive map of coronavirus rules, regulations and other information from all 50 states down to the city and county levels including the status of stay-at-home orders. A federal agency and state tracker offers information on loan forbearance and lease enforcement, and a 10-page checklist addresses issues from appointing a “return to work” team to how to sanitize cash registers and restrooms.

The guidance emphasizes a gradual, phased-in approach to reopening the economy and retail facilities. Materials created so far focus on dozens of critical topics that need to be addressed, and retailers organized into working groups based on the four main categories are continuing to meet weekly by conference call to address details and develop additional guidance.

Employee cleans products at Stephenson's of Elkhart
Stephenson's of Elkhart has introduced new cleaning procedures to keep employees and customers safe as it reopens stores.

Issues being addressed include signage to maintain social distancing, deployment of a minimal number of employees to reduce risk, plexiglass shields to separate cashiers and customers, obtaining sufficient face masks, worker health screening and following guidelines from public health agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Planning for and safely reopening retail and restaurant businesses – including returning teams and associates to physical locations and welcoming customers back to stores and dining establishments – is essential to a functioning and healthy economy,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said in a letter to President Trump announcing the launch of the program. “Perhaps no other industry will be as critical to our economic recovery as retail.”

Retailers are working diligently to protect employee and customer safety as they reopen, but Shay urged “consistent guidelines across all levels of government” and cautioned against “overburdensome regulatory schemes” and said “fear of litigation” should not be allowed to delay efforts.

Tennessee-based home improvement and farm goods chain Tractor Supply Company is one of the retailers that have remained open during the pandemic. Vice President of Product Development and Strategic Sourcing Ken Strait has been involved in Operation Open Doors, offering input on how his company has dealt with issues ranging from supply chain to personal protective equipment to “combat pay” for employees.

“There are so many ever-changing data points and evolving information that it is hard for any one retailer to keep up,” Strait said. “We have had a fairly large team on this since January and it is still tough. There is a lot to be learned still and much of that comes from cross-sector meeting.”

By bringing multiple retailers together, NRF has made it possible to “put the best thoughts of the retail community into a document that may save lots of retailers time, money and lives by giving guidance for how to safely reopen their doors,” he said.
Among the things Tractor Supply has learned and is sharing with other retailers:

  • “Pandemic supplies (masks, gloves, shields, wipes, hand sanitizer) are hard to get at a reasonable price – get out in front and secure what you can.”
  • “Associates and customers appreciate you keeping them safe.”
  • “Combat pay significantly improves attendance and moral.” (Tractor Supply has given works a bonus of $2 an hour for working during the pandemic.)

California Retailers Association President Rachel Michelin said Operation Open Doors has helped her group while working with state officials.

“We found the guidelines from Operation Open Doors to be extremely helpful as we have conversations with the California governor, his team and local governments on what retail will look like for the next few months or years,” Michelin said. “The goal of the project to provide high-level guidance and suggestions was invaluable to us.”

“The reopening of economies, especially in California, will be a long process,” Michelin said. “The retail industry needs to work collectively to ensure the retail industry fully comes back.”

With its emphasis on health and safety as the top priority, Michelin said Operation Open Doors will help retailers address the most important part of reopening:

“The biggest challenge will be getting customers to feel comfortable coming back to the store,” she said. “Retailers need to do all they can to ensure the safety of consumers and the employees are the top priority. Using best practices from across the country can help retailers know how to best approach this.”

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