Staying Strong in the COVID-19 Era

Mason Greene
Chairman, FEDA
President, Hotel & Restaurant Supply

In March, we at Hotel & Restaurant Supply were planning to have a big clearance sale at our old warehouse while simultaneously working on a grand opening event for our new, larger showroom in Jackson, Miss. Then it was like someone flipped a switch. Coronavirus began to rapidly spread across the country and the big plans we were making suddenly halted as the daily conversation shifted to “how do we respond?”

Success in the age of COVID-19 looks a lot different. Today, the focus is on keeping our team members as safe as possible, serving our customers the best we can and in new ways, and minimizing the impact on our people and the company.

Communication was especially critical in those early days. People were still learning about COVID-19 and coming to terms with how it would affect them. At first, we questioned whether it was the right move to voluntarily close Hotel & Restaurant Supply’s showrooms, but I felt strongly we needed to do our part to slow the virus’ spread while still serving our customers. By April, curbside pickup and contactless delivery were the norm everywhere.

Like many dealers, Hotel & Restaurant Supply saw some projects put on hold and others canceled. A long-time employee who has been in the industry since 1974 told me this is the slowest he’s ever seen it. My primary concern in all this is not knowing how long it will take to get the economy moving again and when “normal” activity will resume.

The scaling back is not universal, however. Many operators continue to plan for the future and are moving forward like nothing is happening. Other customers, like a chain of convenience store chicken restaurants, are just as busy as ever. There are a lot of operators out there adapting to the new normal and finding ways to stay open. People still want to eat. That activity is a sign that the industry remains resilient even as public health concerns change how we do business.

The slowdown caused by COVID-19 does not mean that we haven’t remained busy. Although fewer orders are going in and out, we’re using this period to redirect team members toward development and training. Others are thinking up ways to improve our new showroom or are taking a closer look at our inventory control. Finally, we are also in the middle of a new ERP Implementation. Through these efforts, we hope to emerge from COVID-19 stronger than ever. As former chairman and CEO of Intel Andy Grove once said, “Bad companies are destroyed by crisis. Good companies survive them. Great companies are improved by them.”

The foodservice equipment and supplies industry is full of great people and companies. I have already seen many examples of my passionate peers surviving and growing stronger. I can’t predict what the outcome from all this will be, but it has made me more thankful to be a part of this great industry. I remain hopeful and confident that we will look back at this time and see how COVID-19 made us better and gave us a humbler perspective on life.