For many of you, Hurricane Irene is all but a distant memory, but for others, especially those in the Northeast (myself included), the flooding that the record 13 inches of rainfall caused has irreversibly affected our lives. Dozens of homes that stood for more than a century have simply vanished and many more of my neighbor’s homes are uninhabitable.
After the water receded, it took nearly a week for our main roads to become semi-drivable and our utilities to be restored. Heading into the next town from here, it was such a comforting site to see the grocery store open for business and shelves stocked with much needed food and water supplies. As I walked down the aisles gathering items to replenish our pantry, I started thinking about the larger, more proactive role grocers might play in helping people get through weather events such as this. Whether it is a hurricane, tornado or winter snowstorm, there’s an opportunity for supermarkets to be a resource in helping communities prepare ahead of time as well as assisting them after a weather event passes.
Here are a few thoughts: use your website or social media pages as a clearing house to pass along a list of “must have emergency items” tailored specifically for your region and the weather event. Reinforce this at store level by assembling “Preparedness Packages” and featuring them in a prominent, high-traffic location. Before a weather event, suggestions for kits could include non-perishable canned items, first aid kits, emergency blankets, flashlights and batteries, energy bars, sterno cans, matches or flame starters, hand-held radios, jar candles, bottled water, and maybe a deck of playing cards, etc. After the weather event, cleaning items like bleach and disinfectants are in big demand, as are buckets, rubber gloves, shovels, heavy-duty garbage bags, mops, bottled water, and disposable cameras.
What’s more, while most local and national food relief comes in the days after an emergency, there is often a need to help communities beyond that. Working with local volunteer groups to disseminate gift cards to those in need is an ideal way to help longer term. Partnering with community outreach groups and schools to organize a food drive is also helpful as so many food shelters’ inventories will be depleted after a weather event.
Retailers are always trying to figure out how to differentiate themselves and build customer loyalty. Assortment is usually the obvious go-to answer, but I say there’s no better way to build loyalty than letting your customers know you’ve got their back and that you are there for them in an emergency when they truly need you.