As the COVID-19 pandemic escalated through March 2020, New York was one of the first states to require all non-essential workers to stay home to help fight the virus. The state was still hard-hit, and just three weeks later took the unwanted title of world leader in coronavirus cases.
Automotive parts stores remained classified as essential businesses, though, and less than 150 miles from the epicenter in New York City, NAPA Auto Parts owner Mike Przekurat has been doing everything he can to keep his staff and retail customers safe.
“We’ve been following the Centers for Disease Control guidelines, and we have signage posted prominently all over the stores encouraging everyone to stay six feet away from each other,” said Przekurat, who owns NAPA Auto Parts stores in Ravena and Catskill, New York, and is also part of a management group for an additional seven stores in New York and Massachusetts. “Most of our drivers are wearing masks and gloves, and most employees in the store are wearing one or both as well.”
In early April, Przekurat took matters into his own gloved hands, purchasing plexiglass and installing the inexpensive, clear plastic shields at the counters in his Ravena store as an additional barrier to protect his employees and customers. Store Manager Ken Krieg handled the job in Catskill.
“It’s a simple design, just two 2 feet by 6 feet shields cut from a 4 feet by 8 feet sheet of plexiglass,” he said. “We painted some angle iron NAPA blue, screwed the plexiglass to the angle iron, and screwed the angle iron to the counters. Customers have been happy to see our new shields protecting them and the counter employees.”
The Bottom Line? Focusing on Health and Wellbeing
Przekurat’s stores are indeed still seeing customers, though the volume has declined.
“We’re all getting hit pretty hard, and I’ve seen 25 to 30 percent decreases,” he said. “Our wholesale business is off the most, as so many cars are just parked. Government entities and businesses are running on skeleton crews and not necessarily keeping up with vehicle maintenance, and people aren’t driving as much, or thinking about replacing batteries or brakes. But our retail business is still holding strong, and customers aren’t acting scared. We sold out of masks and other personal protective equipment early on, but people are still coming in to pick up a marine battery for their boat or get supplies to spend a beautiful Saturday waxing their car to keep it looking good.”
He’s also working to keep things upbeat for store employees.
“We’re making sure they know that we care about these protective measures to make sure they’re safe,” he said. “We already have a rigorous daily regimen of cleaning counters, doors, knobs, and floors, and even though obtaining cleaning products has become a bit of a whirlwind, we have ramped up those cleaning processes as well. People here are taking it as it comes, being careful, washing their hands, using hand sanitizer, and trying to stay away from each other.”
Przekurat has not cut hours or staff for business reasons, but one full-time employee and seven part-timers were furloughed in accordance with New York’s “Matilda’s Law.” Named for the Governor’s mother, the legislation aims to protect vulnerable populations, including these eight retirees at Przekurat’s stores, who are more than 70 years old.
“I care about my customers and my employees, which is why I’m working so hard to protect everyone and keep us open,” Przekurat said. “If something happens here, we’ll have to shut down, and no one will be able to work here. And every day, it’s something new. So we’re being mindful of the situation, following CDC guidelines, taking the concerns of our employees and customers to heart, and responding in kind.”
It’s the same approach seen throughout the local Albany operating area, where all company-owned NAPA AUTO PARTS stores have placed minimum distance stickers every six feet on the floor, put barricades in front of all the counters, installed plexiglass barricades on every counter, purchased extenders to move the credit card processors out in front of the counters, and posted signs on the doors encouraging concerned retail customers to call and request that their part be brought out of the store to them.
“As a company, we have to be mindful of sales,” said Scott Murphy, General Manager of the Albany Distribution Center. “But we also have to make sure that we’re keeping our employees safe while making that sale. We want our team members to know they matter to us, and we want our customers to know that without them, there is no us! It’s all about using good judgment each and every day, and staying focused on doing what’s right. So, we are all working very hard to do all we can to keep everyone safe as customers spend their hard-earned money in our stores. It’s all part of the NAPA KNOW HOW!”