B2 Outlet, OFFPRICE retailer, empowers store managers during COVID-19
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by Mikaela Kornowski
COVID-19 has been life-threatening not only in terms of physical health, but also for retail businesses. Before the Coronavirus reached the United States, B2 Outlet, an OFFPRICE Show retailer, had increased sales and in-store traffic, two new locations set to open, and great trajectories for the summer season.
“When Coronavirus struck, it felt like we were holding a sword and shield at the same time,” says Jason Hoffer, CEO of B2 Outlet. “In the beginning, we had to simplify and scale-down as much as we could, but also play offense and be aggressive against this new challenge. Now that we’re here, we’re figuring out how to maximize our opportunities.”
For B2 Outlet, many of those opportunities and creative strategies are products of the company’s progressive structure, which gives store managers increased influence. “We set up our stores for each manager to have their own ‘small business’ or store,” says Hoffer. “We can do some things for the store manager, but ultimately they are in charge of the success of their location. And they’ve stepped up in incredible ways.”
The company’s new curbside pickup is just one new strategy that might stick permanently. “Our team is pretty adventurous and willing to try new things,” says Hoffer. “We knew it may not go well, but if we were going to fail, we were going to fail fast so we could fix our mistakes. Our store managers assigned ‘treasure hunters’ on their team, who they knew could seek out the best finds. The managers have put together some great plans and did our beta testing.”
What’s clear is that retail isn’t going to be the same post-COVID. “There’s no finish line here,” says Hoffer. “It’s how we sustain ourselves long enough to make it to the better selling seasons.”
When interviewed on Friday, May 1, the company was re-opening 12 of its 22 brick-and-mortar locations in Michigan and Illinois. Hoffer explained the company decided which locations to open due to the square footage of the building, proximity to other B2 locations, and the population density for the store’s region.
“We’re lucky in that we have a strong customer loyalty,” says Hoffer. “Their willingness to travel and support our mission is there. They’re excited and we could see that from the responses to our social media marketing.”
Thankfully, the company launched a new strategy one year ago to add more food to their inventory, which helped deem B2 as an essential business in some counties. “Our targets were constantly changing,” says Hoffer. “Especially here in Michigan, rules and opening dates for businesses were a moving target.”
With a legacy of giving back, it’s no surprise the company found ways to return the courtesy to their loyal communities. “We did deep discounts on food items and made thousands of pounds worth of food donations to the nearest shelters,” says Hoffer. “We also gave 30,000 medical gloves and 300 gallons of disinfectant to a local hospital.” Eventually the news picked up the story, which was spread by word-of-mouth amongst the medical staff.
For B2 Outlet, putting faith in their employees to get the job done was a smart move. “Your team can really become an army when you allow them to get to work for you,” says Hoffer. “They are the ones closest to our customers and communities, and they’ve been the highlight of this whole experience.”