Businesses shifting to appointments, remote operation
March 29, 2020
“Bullet Bob” Vilandry and his wife were on a cruise of all things when the world turned upside down.
Then they returned to Clovis, and the Vilandrys couldn’t believe how things had changed.
The coronavirus had turned into a pandemic, people were scared, shoppers were hoard-buying at supermarkets all over town.
When he saw the Walmart paper product shelves stripped bare as a turkey on Thanksgiving night, Vilandry was shocked. And then his world turned a little more haywire.
Last Monday afternoon, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham issued a stay-at-home order, effective Tuesday morning, to help contain the spread of the virus, as New Mexico's confirmed cases — at zero just two weeks prior — were mounting. Essential businesses only were allowed to stay open, and that excluded furniture stores and their showrooms.
Vilandry was allowed to have a few people at a time come in to shop at his store, Bullet Bob Has It on Main Street, through phone appointments. It was something, but not quite what he was used to. Not quite what anyone was used to.
Reached Tuesday afternoon, just hours after the order had gone into effect, Vilandry was still waiting for his first appointment of the week to be scheduled at his store. Granted, it was the first day of the governor’s order, and it was a Tuesday in general.
“Typically Tuesdays aren’t the best days of the week,” Vilandry noted.
But the stay-at-home order wasn’t even the beginning of Vilandry’s concerns.
“Before we had to close down,” he said, “my business had been down 50-75 percent, easy, because of the coronavirus.”
Businesses are feeling the crunch, as the American way of life is practically at a standstill. Want to linger and get on the wifi at Starbuck’s? Sorry. Want to savor your fries in the McDonald’s lobby? Try savoring at home. Health and safety are priorities right now.
Small businesses like Bullet Bob’s, though, don’t have the voluminous resources that big international franchises possess. These times for local companies are as troubling as they are fast-changing.
Things have certainly changed for Randy Petty, owner of Clovis Furniture Exchange.
“My understanding so far is we can deliver things to customers that were pre-ordered,” Petty said Thursday. “I just can’t allow anybody in my showroom.”
As of Thursday night, Petty was still getting used to the new — and hopefully temporary — reality.
“It’s only our third day,” he said. “The first day we had trucks coming we couldn’t stop; we had to unload those. I’m checking with the SBA (Small Business Administration) about some disaster loans and what we can do and how we can survive until this thing is over.”
Petty hopes Congress’ stimulus package will help. It should help his employees.
“I know my employees, if needed, can go immediately and get unemployment benefits without jumping through the normal hoops,” Petty said.
Ashley Furniture — for which the Clovis and Portales stores are the chain’s only ones that are locally owned — it’s been crazy busy in these strange times.
“I am here answering phones because we do have existing orders that are being shipped out to customers,” said Jessica Yi, Director of Operations for both the Clovis and Portales stores. “Of course we are not doing any in-home delivery.”
Though it’s not business as usual, it’s still business. Yi has been working the phones seven days a week, helping people with those existing orders, helping them navigate the Ashley website for online shopping, helping them fit new furniture into their homes, even at a safe social distance.
“I can help them if they can send me measurements of a room or tell me what other things may be in the room,” Yi said. “I am able to use a room planner.”
Call it a bright spot that at least the pandemic occurred in the 21st century, where computer technology allows for tasks that previously could only be done in a showroom or a customer’s house.
“Anything we can handle remotely we are happy to do that,” Yi said, “and there is no charge.
“I think it’s especially reassuring for customers now because they aren’t able to come to our showroom.”