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HUNTINGTON — Businesses in the Huntington area deemed essential, which have been open throughout the coronavirus pandemic, say they have learned many lessons and have some advice for businesses that are reopening in the coming weeks.

“Communicate, communicate, communicate,” said Chris Miller, president of Dutch Miller Auto. “Be organized, think ahead, develop a plan of action and execute. But make sure your plan has the ability to adapt as perceptions change. And listen to your customers.”

Sales Xceleration Inc. recently conducted a Quick Pulse Survey to see how organizations are functioning through the uncharted territory of COVID-19. The results confirmed that 54.72% do not have a plan-ahead strategy or plan to create one for their post-COVID-19 sales efforts.

Miller says Dutch Miller has a plan and strategy to keep both its employees and its customers safe.

“Just clean excessively and make sure the appropriate safety precautions are in place and readily available, like gloves, masks, sneeze guards for appropriate roles. Have a clearly defined process and follow it. And rigorous hand-washing is a must,” he said.

Miller says he has learned that not everybody looks at the pandemic the same.

“There are some people who are truly concerned about the virus and are fearful of contamination,” he said. “There are others who aren’t worried, or worry little, and are dying to return to a sense of normalcy.”

Lynne Fruth, president and chairwoman of Fruth Pharmacy, says people in her company learned that taking care of the community starts with making sure staff members have access to necessary supplies and personal protective equipment as well as training and education about proper sanitation and safe practices.

“Fruth placed barriers at customer facings, implemented hourly sanitation procedures and also implemented social distancing and staggered schedules to keep employees separated and safe during breaks,” she said. “We also learned that providing daily updates to all staff members helped keep our employees informed about the ever-changing environment that the communities were facing.”

She says Fruth Pharmacy also used social media and emails to inform customers of safe practices and options to allow them to limit their exposure while shopping.

“Better safe than sorry,” Fruth said. “It sounds cliché, but it was the right way to go. Fruth elected to implement policy changes early and to be more conservative with our actions, such as requiring masks early, putting up barriers and asking customers to use delivery and curbside pickup. We set occupancy limits for our stores that were well below the requirements. The goal at Fruth was to provide essential services while protecting our employees and our customers. Our customers commented about the extra precautions and their appreciation for those.”

Fruth’s advice for those that will be reopening soon is to have well-documented procedures for safe operational practices.

“Business leaders need to respond quickly and communicate frequently with the staff,” she said. “It is important to inform both employees and customers about what the procedures are and why it is important to follow them. After that it is important that management follow up to ensure that the practices are being followed consistently.”

Jennifer Jill, the owner and operator of Fuel Counter restaurant, which has locations at The Market in downtown Huntington and in Barboursville, says many of the policies and procedures to keep everyone safe were already in place.

“Fortunately, prior to the pandemic, we already train and maintain habits of regular hand-washing, wearing gloves, and continuously disinfecting and sanitizing surfaces,” Jill said. “While we had plans to begin delivery in Huntington in May, we accelerated that timeline to accommodate patrons. Barboursville will follow soon. The drive-through pickup window in Barboursville has been incredibly helpful. We already offered online and mobile app ordering, but leveraged that even more to encourage cash-less transactions. Finally, we have implemented face masks.”

Jill said Fuel Counter employees did learn to communicate better as an organization and be even more nimble than before the pandemic.

“Each day they worked extremely hard to adapt to the uncertainties of the virus and continuously changing CDC and local guidelines, all while staying positive and striving to serve the community,” she said. “Each day I would wake up not knowing who was going to show up to work, if the food would show up on the trucks or if guests would come in to eat.”

Jill’s advice for other businesses is to find what works for them.

“Take it day by day and then week by week, obviously staying within the guidelines enforced by authorities, but be creative and try to do things you may have not done before,” she said.

All three businesses say many of the changes due to the pandemic will be permanent. Fruth Pharmacy will install permanent barriers around dropoff and other checkout areas.

“We put in temporary barriers at all stores to address the concerns quickly,” Fruth said. “Sanitation procedures will continue. These are important not only now for protection from COVID-19, but also for prevention of flu and other diseases that can be spread. This will protect medically vulnerable customers and employees. Fruth expanded delivery and initiated curbside pickup during this time. Fruth will continue to offer these services as well as selling items through the drive-through. All these services help protect the people most at risk.

At Dutch Miller Auto, there will be more of an online presence than ever before.

“Having a digital footprint that crosses over from your own website to various social media outlets with consistent messaging will be a must,” Miller said. “More transactions will be completed online as well.”

Jill said the Fuel Counter will also have some permanent changes.

“For us, our delivery will be permanent as it was already planned,” she said. “We think the stronger shift to online and app ordering will be mostly permanent. For businesses in general, we think the focus on employee health screening upon arrival and face masks may be permanent.”

Meanwhile, the West Virginia National Guard has put together a list of resources that businesses may need in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The online link, https://www.huntingtonchamber.org/covid-19-update-for-businesses-and-employers, lists vendors that could be of assistance to businesses that have supplies to include masks, face shields, gloves, testing equipment, hand sanitizer and more.

Follow reporter Fred Pace at Facebook.com/FredPaceHD and via Twitter @FredPaceHD.