Outlook 2022: Golub Corporation finds ways to navigate pandemic, keep business flowing

Customers check out on a busy afternoon at the Price Chopper on Altamont Avenue in Schenectady
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Customers check out on a busy afternoon at the Price Chopper on Altamont Avenue in Schenectady

Prior to COVID-19, Maria Martinez, a floral team leader at the Price Chopper on Altamont Avenue in Rotterdam, would spend most of her workday completing tasks such as arranging flowers, making bouquets, and taking orders for events like weddings and funerals.

But that changed during the pandemic. With many events canceled, Martinez, who has worked at the company for almost 19 years, began taking on other tasks at the store when she had little work in the floral department. She’d clean shelves or even help cashiers by bagging.

“I would wash all the doors in the seafood department, the counters, everything,” she said.

Martinez, like her counterparts, quickly learned to shift gears during the pandemic in order to stay open, stay staffed and remain able to meet customers’ needs.

Staffing a priority
Staffing has been one of the biggest challenges of the pandemic, according to Blaine Bringhurst, president of the Golub Corporation, which operates Price Chopper, Market 32 and Market Bistro stores.

In order to handle staffing challenges that arose from quarantines, people falling ill, people leaving the workforce and other challenges with scheduling such as day care issues, the Altamont Avenue Price Chopper cross-trained employees.
“You learned there were a lot of people you could count on,” said Andy White, the Altamont Avenue store manager.

He said some cashiers were trained to help in areas like the meat department, where they had seen people who couldn’t come to work some days and longer lines as a result. Other employees learned skills such as stocking shelves.

“We really did whatever we had to do to stay open,” White said.

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Martinez said having something else to work on when there was a lull in her department was her “saving grace.”

While COVID restrictions have since eased, she still finds herself doing those things.

But on top of cross-training workers, the stores implemented more cleaning and hygiene procedures.

“We want our teammates to be safe and healthy for their families, and so that they can stay actively employed and keep coming to work every day,” Bringhurst said.

White said he never imagined having to talk about hygiene protocols during staff meetings, but he did.

He even found himself walking through the store and utilizing hand gestures to signal to employees when they needed a little more space between themselves and others

Those cleaning and safety measures remain in place.

Employees were also required to wear masks. Getting vaccinated was strongly encouraged, with the company providing access to pharmacies in their stores for people to get the shots, Bringhurst said.

But even with cross-training and safety measures in place, the store, like many businesses, is in constant need of employees.

“We’re always hiring,” Bringhurst said.

Bringhurst said one of the great aspects about working for Golub is the company’s ability to be flexible and work around people’s schedules.

He said the company offers good wages based on a number of factors, including years of experience and the type of job someone is seeking.

Besides staffing challenges, stores like Price Chopper are facing increasing costs to consumers and an ever-changing demand in products.

Keeping customers happy
“There are cost increases throughout the entire supply chain,” Bringhurst said.

Those increases come from staffing shortages, rising wages, and higher costs of producing and transporting products.

To mitigate those increases, the company is finding ways to work more efficiently, and even buying ahead and buying more of a commodity so the increase in product costs won’t hit customers as quickly.

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“It’s understanding that hey, this commodity looks like it might be short in the future but it’s not now, so let’s buy now so we can have it on hand so it doesn’t impact our customers at least quite as early,” Bringhurst said.

There’s no way to predict what products will be the next to fly off shelves. Early in the pandemic, baking items disappeared quickly. That’s because more people were baking and cooking at home. Seafood was also a high-demand product as fewer people were eating out due to restaurant closures.

While surging demand has calmed a bit, boxed and canned goods such as rice continue to be purchased at a high rate.

At present, pet food, Gatorade and apple juice are becoming more difficult to keep on shelves. To combat supply-chain issues, grocers are monitoring inventories with more scrutiny.

“One measure that helps [keep products in stock] is ensuring accurate counts of items in store and inputting it into the computer software, so products are ordered,” White said.

While the pandemic has been challenging, the company was still able to execute a major merger with grocery chain Tops.

Tops merger
In November 2021, Price Chopper/Market 32 and Tops Markets completed the merger. The deal brings large regional grocery chains headquartered in eastern and western New York together as a single entity. The new parent corporation, Northeast Grocery Inc., will be headquartered in Schenectady.

Their combined 280 supermarkets will continue to operate under their current banners, and the two divisions will be managed separately out of the existing headquarters — Price Chopper/Market 32 in Schenectady and Tops in Williamsville, near Buffalo.

Bringhurst is continuing to serve as president of the Price Chopper/Market 32 business and John Persons as president of the Tops Markets business. Dave Langless, chief financial officer of Tops, will serve as the parent company’s CFO.

The merger will give the stores greater economy of scale and create new efficiencies, the two entities have said.

Golub Corp. Headquarters: 461 Nott St., Schenectady
Incorporated: Created 1932; merger with Tops Markets completed in November
2021, creating parent company Northeast Grocery
Employees: 18,000, with Golub Corp.; 32,000 combined employees with Tops Markets merger
Stores: 130 Price Chopper/Market 32 stores; 1 Bistro store; total of 280 stores with Tops Markets merger

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Categories: Business, Outlook 2022, Rotterdam, Schenectady

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