As we start another trip around the sun in 2022, retailers are confronted with a challenge that we’ve never faced before. The last two years have been weird and unbelievable, but, because they actually happened, we need to prepare for dealing with the long-term ramifications related to them. And that is going to take some thought, planning and foresight.
The situation with the pandemic, moving forward, reminds me of Buford Anthony, the man I bought my store from back in 1993. Buford lived, and suffered, through the Great Depression. It stayed with him, and controlled many aspects of his life until the day he died. Case in point: Buford and I used to order lunch from a “meat ‘n three” restaurant a few doors down a couple of times a week. We always ordered the same thing (Meatloaf Monday & Turkey and Dressing Thursday), so we knew exactly how much our lunch would cost, right down to the nickel. I’d give him my money, and he’d walk over and pick up our lunches.
One day, I ordered an extra cornbread roll, and forgot to include the extra nickel in the money I gave him. When he got back to the store, he immediately asked me for the nickel. I thought he was just joking since he was a millionaire several times over. He wasn’t joking! He asked about it again while we were eating lunch. Then, at the end of the day, he made sure that I gave him that nickel before he left. Unreal.
People would ask me why he never took his wife and kids on a trip to Paris or London with all of that money. I would tell them that would be the worst vacation in the history of family vacations. Yes, he could afford it, but no one would enjoy the trip because he would have nickeled and dimed (literally) their vacation to death. Once he passed away though, I learned his wife didn’t have the same obsession with hoarding money, and she and her kids enjoyed many lavish vacations together after his passing. The Great Depression officially lasted from 1929-1938. But for Buford, it lasted until the day he died.
Now, some of you might be asking yourselves why I’m telling you such a heartwarming story about how the Great Depression affected Buford. Because for everyone that works directly with the public, the Bufords of the pandemic world are going to be in our futures for years to come, if not decades. Let me explain.
Every decision Buford made revolved around what would happen if another Great Depression hit tomorrow. That next Great Depression never happened. But, for Buford, it was always right around the corner, all day, every day. After living through a pandemic, many people will never be the same person they were pre-pandemic. Every decision they make moving forward will be about how to protect themselves from the next pandemic tomorrow. And all of us will have to interact with all of them on a daily basis moving forward.
Throughout the last two years of COVID, I’ve said many times that there will always be people that are taking it more serious than you are, and there will always be people that are not taking it serious enough to suit you. I’ve also said: “You do you.”
This whole situation also reminds me of a defensive driving class I had to take a few years ago in order to operate emergency vehicles. The instructor asked all of us in the class to rate our driving skills on a scale of 1-10. Of course we were all 9s and 10s (I was a 10, BTW). He then asked us to rate all of the other drivers on the road using the same scale. Yep, you guessed it; 1s and 2s for everyone. Then, he said something prolific: “The purpose of this class is to teach all of you 9s and 10s in here, how to stay away from all of the 1s and 2s out there.” Let’s take that analogy and apply it to the pandemic.
On a scale of 1-10, with 1 being, I’ll never get vaccinated and I’ll never wear a mask – all the way up to 10 being, I’m triple masked, triple vaccinated, double gloved, all while wearing a surgical gown and face shield, just to step outside and get the mail. Where are you in that mix?
Where are you on a scale of 1-10? What is your number? I’m around a 3.
I’m pretty sure the 1s and 2s won’t interact with the 9s and 10s on a daily basis. Those groups will seek out establishments that cater to their lifestyle choices. But that leaves the 3s through the 8s out here to intermingle with one another the best way possible. And I’ll admit, I have no idea what that best practice is going to look like at this point.
The other day, I had a lady I’d never met, come into my store. The first words out of her mouth were: “Are you vaccinated?” I just looked at her and thought, ‘how rude’. I’m pretty sure she wasn’t trying to be rude, but this was obviously an encounter between a 3 and an 8. I think I just said something like I would never discuss my medical history with a complete stranger. If I was a betting man, I’d bet that won’t be my last encounter of that sort.
I don’t know what that future holds, but I do suspect that there will be a lot of Pandemic Bufords out there for us to deal with for years to come. Now don’t get me wrong, this is not a judgement on these people or their lifestyle choices. The pandemic was real, and it hit some people a lot harder than it hit others. As retailers, we have to think about how to handle these encounters professionally, on a case by case basis.
Dealing with Buford was always a struggle because he always had that something something going on in the background because of the depression, and its long term hold on him. The pandemic has, and will continue to have, those same lasting effects on a lot of our customers for the rest of their lives as well.
Inside of our stores, our 3s and 4s are going to be interacting with the 7s and 8s that come into our businesses. And our 7s and 8s are going to be interacting with the 3s and 4s that come in. I have no idea how that’s going to work long term.
If anyone has already thought this through and has a plan in place, send me an email and I’ll share it.
Now get back to counting all of that money you made over the Christmas season and don’t forget to send me my 5%.