Exclusive: North Carolina retailer sticks to brick-and-mortar as coronavirus drives e-commerce demand

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Triangle Business Journal, Retailing, March 23, 2021

As Walmart and Amazon continue to push out deliveries to those staying put amid the coronavirus outbreak, one Triangle-based big box store owner is holding firm with its brick-and-mortar strategy: Variety Wholesalers, the Henderson-headquartered company behind retailer Roses.

Owner Art Pope says the company, which has long resisted implementing an e-commerce strategy, is holding firm to its trajectory – even amid the COVID-19 crisis.

“We are responding as well as we can to keep our people healthy and safe, and trying to keep our customers healthy and safe,” he says.

Truckloads of merchandise – yes, including toilet paper – are still coming in to restock store shelves. Stores are open, though workers are ensuring shoppers employ social distancing.

But products are not being shipped directly to customers.

“Again, we are a brick and mortar,” Pope says. “We provide local communities, local neighborhoods with the goods that they need, one-stop family shopping. That’s actually crucial now. You can go to one store for everything you need. … We have never engaged in a large e-commerce strategy. … We can’t compete on e-commerce with a Walmart or an Amazon, and we’re certainly not trying to institute e-commerce overnight.”

He calls the “neighborhood” strategy “very strong,” but citing Variety’s status as a private company, he declined to detail its financials. Nor would he say whether business has crept up amid the additional demand seen by many retailers in recent weeks.

But Pope, formerly North Carolina’s state budget director under Gov. Pat McCrory, is concerned about his cohorts in retail and restaurants nationwide.

“I hope the state and federal government allows them to keep open, serving their customers as long as it can be done so safely, and that legislation being considered doesn’t do more harm than good,” he says.

Pope says that, so far, state officials have done a “good job” listening to businessowners, and that he hopes it continues.

As for Variety, Pope hopes to keep stores open indefinitely.

“Probably the biggest impact are the health and safety concerns,” Pope says, noting that management isn’t coming to the office at the same time, and working remotely “wherever possible.”

Like grocery stores, Roses felt a “rush in buying” as the crisis came on, with people emptying shelves – particularly of hand sanitizer. Pope says it’s been a challenge getting products from distribution centers to stores quickly enough to satisfy customer demand.

“I hope now that the initial wave of buying has taken place, that customers will see stores are resupplying,” he says, particularly paper products. Hand sanitizer is still in short supply, as much of it is being sent to health care facilities across the state.

As of Monday morning, none of his stores had been impacted directly by a positive coronavirus case, Pope says.

Categories: Roses