Ancient philosophers identified earth, air, fire and water as the essentials to life.
Now skip ahead 3,000 years to March 2020 and the height of the Coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. Essentials now are redefined as groceries, health care, fuel and hardware.
No one became more acutely or quickly aware of this than Mark Schulein, 50, owner and president of the three-store Crown Ace Hardware group in Newport Beach.
As the state’s businesses shut down and people were ordered to stay home except for emergency health care and resupply necessities, “we had to make sure we could stay open to support the community,” Schulein said. “Fortunately and appropriately, the governor declared hardware to be an essential business, and he made that decision for us.”
What Crown’s customers realized during mandated home sequestration “is that nothing is more essential than maintaining one’s home, keeping clean and fixing those things that need attention,” Schulein said. “Many customers recognize the cathartic potential” of home maintenance and projects, he added, noting that several customers stated “this is helping me from going crazy.”
Almost overnight, Schulein and his staff were confronted with challenges heretofore not experienced by Crown since its establishment in 1949. First and foremost, Schulein had to keep everyone, from staff and customers, additionally safe and protected while maintaining access to products and services.
“We have always been a hugs and handshake business; now everything is hands off. Today, health and safety are primary, everything else is secondary,” Schulein explained. “For our team and our customers, we have to be safe; we extensively clean and maintain social distance. We’ve restricted our hours from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., so that we can compress our staffing in order to best support the community during this time.”
Crown has “doubled down” on inventory, especially the “high demand items” such as cleaning products and masks when available. It has been a challenge. Through nonstop communications with providers, Crown has, for the most part, been able to provide the wants and needs of customers. As with most retailers, paper towels, disinfectants, and, more often than not, toilet tissue have been challenging to procure.
Since the national shutdown began, hand sanitizers have been placed on the endangered species list. However, Schulein’s team made contact with an L.A.-based perfume manufacturer that shifted to blending hand sanitizers, and now Crown has pallets of the product. From good scents to good sense.
Other products have moved well, he said, such as wood pellets for grills, propane and charcoal, and other items in the self-reliant category. Evidently, the Coronavirus has “a lot of people eating at home more, with more cooking on the grill,” Schulein opined.
As if the challenges of sourcing products and providing services are not enough, Schulein has had to fend off a plethora of “dirty dealing people who are coming out of the woodwork to sell us stuff at greatly inflated prices. Crown Ace will never gouge, but clearly many of those suppliers will.”
On the plus side, Schulein noted “it’s heartening that people are grateful we’re open. They’re generally in good spirits, where, originally, they showed a high level of stress, fear and panic. But that was short lived,” Schulein observed. “Although it’s not business as usual, people understand, and are happy that we’re open and well stocked. The Crown team are all so proud that we can serve the community well.”
For the location of one of the three Crown Ace Hardware stores in Newport Beach, visit acehardware.com.