When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Wolseley Canada, like many other businesses, it had to pivot to support employees and customers in different ways.
With 2,500 employees, 220 branches across Canada and a head office in Burlington, Ont., Wolseley is a national wholesale distributor of plumbing, heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration, focusing on trade professionals.
“What we did as a management team was we started by saying, ‘what should we do that’s best for our employees?’ That kind of dictated every single decision we have made throughout the pandemic,” Wolseley Canada president Sebastien Laforge told the Daily Commercial News.
“COVID did have an impact on our revenue but it’s absolutely in the back of our mind compared to taking the right steps to protect our people. That was our mandate.”
In response to the pandemic, the company enhanced its digital offerings. Although the Wolseley Express e-commerce platform was in place prior to the pandemic, they needed to make it more effective for customers. They also implemented express and curbside pick-up and a new text to branch capability.
Furthermore, the company increased its personal protective equipment (PPE) product offering to include face masks, hand sanitizer, gloves, safety glasses, ear plugs and safety vests.
“People were working 24/7 to make sure PPE were ordered,” said Laforge.
The first big change they made was getting all employees who could work at home set up.
“That might not be a big thing, but for us we were not ready,” Laforge explained. “From 2,500 employees, 600 were working from home within a matter of weeks.
“It sounds like simple stuff that we did but in our industry we are pretty much old fashioned so to be able to execute all of that in a short period of time, that was heavy lifting.”
With offices and showrooms across the country, the company had to apply different changes to comply with protocols and bylaws depending on each of the province’s responses to the pandemic.
“From province to province we were monitoring government laws, bylaws from municipalities,” said Laforge. “We had a council to look at from a coast-to-coast perspective what needs to be done.”
They then made the difficult decision to close the branches to customers.
“We converted our branch to what we call an express pick-up so trade plumbers or contractors would call us in advance and we would provide curbside pickup across the country,” Laforge noted.
“Then we introduced our Wolseley Express platform. It was already in place, but it really picked up during the pandemic. Our customers were able to order online, show up at the branch, we would fill their truck and off they went.”
They have received positive feedback from their customers.
“They were not afraid to show up at our branches because they felt safe to deal with us,” Laforge said. “It took longer for them to be served when they showed up at the branch but safety, that was the goal.”
Although they were able to reopen in the summer, once the second wave began in the fall, they went back to curbside pickup.
“That is going to continue until wave two is over, until people are vaccinated,” Laforge said.
They did have a few employees with cases of COVID-19 at their branches but they were able to contain it.
“Every case was investigated, documented and there was no spread,” said Laforge. “We made sure that as soon as we had any kind of a signal, people were going back home and getting tested. We allowed for them to stay home without any justification aside from saying ‘I don’t feel good’ or ‘I’m waiting for tests.’ ”
The corporate office will remain closed for now.
“Everyone that can stay home will stay home until full vaccination,” said Laforge.
“Our whole corporate office in Burlington has been shut down for the last eight months. Nobody has re-entered the building since wave one started. Not having a corporate office at this point is impactful but it’s working fine. People are still engaged, morale is good.”
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