By Allyssa Baird, YSN
Moderno Appliance in Lawrence, Mass., is no stranger to disasters. It was just a year and a half ago that the surrounding Merrimack Valley region was rocked by a series of gas explosions that killed one person and brought business to a halt.
Now with COVID-19 coming to the forefront, co-owner Suzanne Carey-Fernandez once again found herself preparing for the repercussions of an uncontrollable disaster. On March 20, Suzanne and her husband Victor Fernandez closed their store to foot traffic and limited their contact with customers to phone calls. To make matters worse, the only product that was in demand at the time was freezers, and Moderno only had a single unit in stock.
Since closing the store to the public, the calls have started to come in more frequently, Suzanne said, which led to offering virtual service calls at no charge. “We had been on a local business virtual call and were brainstorming possible ways to be of use to our community while being unable to have contact,” she recounted. “Yes, we are an essential business, but were concerned about outside contact without proper personal protective equipment.”
So, with very limited PPE, the couple opted to suspend in-home visits and Victor resigned himself to troubleshooting issues over the Internet. Even if customers can’t do the fix themselves, he reasoned, at least he could diagnose the problem for later repair.
Moderno alerted customers about its virtual service via Facebook, using photos from an actual virtual service call, as well as through email. After the customer confirms a date and time, Victor connects with them over Zoom, Google Duo or FaceTime for a visual inspection and diagnosis of their faulty appliance.
“Customers are pleased that we can offer something at this time,” Suzanne said of the virtual service. “They can see Victor and know that he will do what is possible to resolve the problem now or at a later date.”
Suzanne is also using the Zoom platform to participate in group calls with other local businesses. During the best practice sessions neighboring companies share the latest information on Small Business Association loans, offer sales suggestions such as issuing gift certificates for future purchases, and brainstorm other ways to support area shops and services.
Another invaluable resource, she said, is BrandSource, which provides current and accurate information on its Region Call-Ins and COVID Info Hub, and offers special programs and credit terms to help members weather the crisis. “Negotiating the Wells Fargo deferment for 60 days was a tremendous help since our sales came to a halt when all non-essential businesses closed,” she noted.
As an adjunct to its virtual service calls, the couple has also revived its “Moderno’s Appliance Tips” video series in English and Spanish, which it is producing from home with added urgency due the COVID-19 crisis. Their most recent segment addresses refrigerator cleaning and maintenance, to assure that food is fresh and free of contamination.
More recently, Moderno modified its in-home policy and began making limited on-site visits, as service is such a major part of the company’s business. The stipulation: customers must wear masks and keep their social distance while the service tech is present. Victor and Suzanne are hoping to receive additional supplies of masks soon.
BrandSource is a unit of YSN parent AVB Inc.