The CEO of Woodies has told of how the company had to compost €150,000 worth of potted plants when their shops closed seven weeks ago.
Declan Ronayne toldradio’s Ryan Tubridy show that he was both nervous and excited about reopening next Monday and he recognised that shopping is no longer a pastime and it will be difficult for customers.
Woodies has “a steely determination to keep everyone as safe as we can,” he said, recognising people's fears of the coronavirus.
Mr Ronayne said that the recent closure was the longest Woodies had ever been closed.
“Customers need to be conscious of the fact that our 1,400 people haven't been working for seven weeks and they're a little bit nervous about this new world when we come back," he said.
“Even before we closed, obviously we had queues outside the stores, we were only letting a limited number of people in.
"I managed one or two of those queues - in our Bray store and our Cork store, just to talk to customers and what came up again and again was the guys on their own or couples just saying 'thanks be to God, you're open because I'd be going off my head' and I said to people in our own business - we're not in the DIY or gardening business, we're in the mental health business because people want to do stuff, to keep busy, keep the head together while we all just work together to get through this.”
When the closure of the schools happened Woodies thought customers would be nervous and they would have a difficult time. Instead, they ran out of paint because people wanted to do something.
We think we will probably transition from paint when we open on Monday and it will be all about gardening. We have stocked really heavily on gardening products.
“There're growers from every corner of Ireland delivering into our stores today and tomorrow, I think people are going to descend on us because they really, really want something to do, to say 'look at what I've done, look at what I've achieved during this really difficult time'.”
Over the past seven weeks, Woodies continued their online service which previously had been 2% of their business.
“Over half of that would be click and collect at our stores - direct delivery would be 1%, we do about €220m-€230m because when you think about it when you want to do a garden project and your hose connector is bust, you're not going to go online and say I'm going to wait one or two days, you pop down to Woodies.
“After a week we said, we'll get online up and running again, we opened up the website in full. We're not huge online, Black Friday would be busy enough, we opened up at 12 o'clock on one day and by midnight that night we'd had three Black Fridays, the following day we had five Black Fridays.
“We do direct delivery online generally from our store in Tallaght and we ended up within one week - and I thought this was an extraordinary testimony to the team we have, we ended up with six hubs in six of our stores, 150 people in store just working to satisfy 10,000 online orders.
We didn't do all of them because we couldn't do all of them within 14 days, but we did about 99% of them. I'm so proud of that.
When the stores had to compost €150,000 worth of bedding plants they had considered putting them outside stores to give them away, but decided against this as it would have been irresponsible.
Mr Ronayne said the company was very conscious that from now on customers will want to shop in a different way.
“Our primary focus when we reopen on Monday we'll be managing queues of people - I'll be in Bray first thing on Monday, we've already been in contact with the gardaí, we'll have a one-way system into the car park and out.
Mr Ronayne predicted that there will not be enough plants on Monday and that other popular items will be all gardening products and then exterior paint.
“People's homes are their sanctuary now. They have an opportunity now to make it that little bit nicer and I think, from a mental health point of view, there's a great sense of satisfaction.
“We have to get people through the store efficiently - if you have your list, you know what you want, get in and out the stores as quickly as you can, follow the advice of our colleagues.
“If we all work together we can make it work well.”