How Boscov met the COVID challenge
Jim Boscov, Chairman and CEO of Boscov’s LLC Department Store, spoke for over an hour Tuesday morning at the Berks Family Business Alliance.
Prior to a full ballroom at DoubleTree by Hilton, Reading, Boscov mainly discussed his career in retail and his work for the family business, which started as a single store in the upscale neighborhood of Reading and is now a $ 1.2 billion company with 49 locations in eight states.
He also covered other topics and answered questions from the audience. They ranged from the coronavirus pandemic and current logistical issues to the company’s website.
Responding to COVID
When the pandemic developed rapidly in March 2020, Boscov was on a buyers’ trip to Cancun, Mexico.
Like pretty much every other business, Boscov said, “We didn’t have a COVID playbook.”
After discovering that Governor Tom Wolf was shutting down businesses statewide to contain COVID, a task force of 17 people from all parts of the business was quickly put in place.
“It was in all areas of the business,” Boscov said, “from security to merchandising, advertising, real estate, financing and maintenance. How do you close 48 stores and what do you do “You with 8,200 employees? What is the relationship with the banks and the cash position? We had $ 50 million in product on order and $ 7 million in advertising that we committed to over the next four weeks.”
“No one can answer these questions, but it worked like a charm. “
He first met in Boscov’s suite at a Cancun hotel, but continued to meet virtually, three times a day, after everyone returned to Pennsylvania. Not only did this allow the chain to gradually reopen over the summer, but it also opened up lines of communication within the company.
“We tackled everything,” Boscov said. “Compressors in stores, insurance policies, all the little things. I loved it and the team too. We liked it so much and after opening it we said it was continuing. Now we have monthly senior management meetings. Everyone feels they are part of the program and wants to keep it going. “
COVID vaccination mandate
“We all have to face it,” Boscov said of a plan by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to make companies with more than 100 employees make sure they are either vaccinated or tested daily. “The government wanted companies to mandate, but companies wanted government to mandate. “
Currently being upheld by the courts, the Biden administration’s plan will force companies to implement vaccination plans by January 4. Unvaccinated employees had to start wearing masks indoors at the workplace on December 5.
When dealing with employees, Boscov said he takes a hard line.
“I have established a travel policy for buyers because it is important for them to enter the market and very important for them to enter the stores,” Boscov said. “I said that even though you don’t need to get the vaccine at this point, I’m saying you can’t go to the stores, you can’t go to the market unless you are vaccinated.
“Throughout the pandemic, one of the concerns was how we kept our employees safe and let customers know that it is safe to shop at Boscov. Everyone on the sales floor wears a mask. I took a pretty hard line. I got some pretty nasty notes, in particular, from people in the western part of the state.
Boscov said he met two buyers who were hesitant about the vaccine and told them they could get a medical or religious exemption. However, it would prevent them from doing their job because they cannot go to the market.
“I’m not going to change our policy,” Boscov said. “I took a tough line. They accepted that getting the vaccine was OK. I’m not going to win a popularity contest and I agree with that.
Opening in Ohio
Boscov’s opened its store in Niles, Ohio on October 9, the 49th store in total and the second in Ohio. Located in the largest shopping complex in the state, Eastwood Mall, Boscov said he achieved record sales.
The company also raised over $ 100,000 for local nonprofits during the three-day event which included musical entertainment and fireworks. Video from the event showed hundreds of buyers lined up for the opening.
It was straight out of the marketing manual written by the late Albert Boscov, Jim Boscov’s uncle.
“Albert would have loved that kind of opening,” said Jim Boscov.
Supply chain issues
In recent weeks, consumers have noticed limited stocks on store shelves across the country. Not a good thing as the holiday shopping season picks up.
Boscov said the company is working closely with suppliers to keep shelves stocked, finding solutions if a product is scarce.
“Boscov’s is full of stocks and we work closely with suppliers,” he said. “We are on the phone all the time. If something is going to be late, something else is coming early. If something isn’t going to be there, they find a replacement. Freight is certainly increasing and it certainly has an impact, but I think Boscov’s will remain Boscov’s throughout the Christmas season.
Boscov admitted that the company has not been so aggressive with online shopping like its competitors.
“When I came back to Boscov, we had a little web presence and it wasn’t profitable,” he said. “Albert put me in charge of managing it and also told me that if it is going to grow, make sure it is profitable and does not get watered down from the rest of the business. “
Growth has been slow, but steady, over the years.
“We went from 3% of the activity, he said, to 10% of the activity after COVID. We are in the process of restructuring the platform right now. On March 1 of next year you will see a much more agile site that we will be promoting. I don’t think we’re ever going to make the same effort as Macy’s because when you buy a dress, you want to try it on.