Small grocer sees spike in demand due to lockdown

While most businesses were downsizing and conducting layoffs in the past two weeks due to COVID-19, owner of Discount Distributors Ryan Turnquest said his business demand increased so significantly that he has had to hire 10 new employees and purchase four new delivery trucks.

Turnquest said the government-mandated curfew and lockdown has impacted his business in two ways – good and bad.

“Fortunately for my business, I had a platform prepared for this kind of thing, so I was able to pick up more retail business, home deliveries,” he said.

“Persons that would normally go into a grocery store, they were now forced to find other methods of shopping. A lot of persons are really scared. So actually, when we deliver to them they ask us to put it six feet away from their door, which is understandable. We’re fully compliant with COVID.

“I had this established since September. I put it out to try and get households because my store was so small so it was just an innovative way to get other customers and make up for my small space that I started to get a lot of customers in. I started to get a lot of complaints that, ‘Oh your store is too small.’

“So, I would say we do other methods of shopping – we do grocery pick up and we do home deliveries.

“Before this we had about 1,200 users, now we have 6,000 users. So, we gained 5,000 users in the space of two weeks, which means that our orders increased by at least 75 to 80 percent. The prime minister is saying he wants [businesses] to have these online platforms, but that doesn’t come cheap. I’ve already had my online platform that I’ve invested in. Now it’s working, I had to buy four new vehicles and I had to hire 10 new staff. I’m now up to 40 employees.”

But on the other hand, this increase in demand has come at a great cost during uncertain economic times.

“We lost all our food service business, food stores and restaurants, they’re closed down. Not only that, they’re closed down and a lot of them left bills. It would be really unsympathetic to even ask for a payment given that people are closed,” he said.

“We give out credit terms and stuff, and people would see us selling plenty groceries not knowing that hey there’s plenty money outstanding to these people because they give out credit terms to bigger companies.”

Complete lockdown

The uptick in business didn’t come without challenges for Turnquest, particularly

after the prime minister’s announcement on Friday of a complete lockdown for residents and businesses, even those deemed essential like his.

He said he was surprised on Friday evening when officers ordered his doors shut even before the 7 p.m. allowance for food stores to remain open to serve customers.

“We didn’t have a problem if the instruction came down. It’s just the manner in which it was done. It’s that he jumped out of the vehicle, came into the store while people were actually shopping, older persons. A lady had to sit down how scared she was when the officer came inside,” Turnquest recounted.

“He shouted, ‘Leave your groceries and leave. Shop closed.’ People were in the middle of cashing out and he made them leave, then he came to our back section where we were loading deliveries.”

Turnquest said as a small business owner, the announcement was too abrupt.

“You ask what small businesses want,” he said.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily what they want and it’s more what they need. For example, we use Saturday sales to make payroll. My payroll is some $25,000. I cannot pay my staff today. I will not even be able to pay them on Monday. Keeping in mind we have so much money outstanding owed to us from other customers; these are good customers, but they are not open.

“Going forth, I’m going to close my retail shop to fully make my app speak for the situation that’s happening. We want people to stay at home. [We’ll only do] deliveries or store pickup. You can come when you get a notification that your order is ready. You can pay via PayPal on the app or you can pay cash on delivery.”

Turnquest noted, however, that he has had to put a pause on new downloads of the app because of its high demand.

He said he will revisit that once he has cleared through the more than 200 backlogged orders he is now working feverishly with his staff to fulfill.

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