How BrandSource Dealers Beat the COVID Blues

By Alan Wolf and Andy Kriege, YSN

For many if not most BrandSource members, the 13-month-long pandemic has sapped some degree of employee morale.

The unprecedented consumer demand that followed the outbreak has forced staffs to work long hours at a frenetic pace, while COVID compliance procedures like social distancing, disinfections and face masks have presented an added challenge.

To help keep company spirits high, BrandSource dealers are employing a host of inventive team-building tactics, ranging from bonus pay, time off and pizza, to more elaborate practices like off-site festivities and even creating formal staff positions for morale building.

As with all business matters, members are only too eager to share their best practices with their BrandSource brothers and sisters. Here are some of their smartest ideas that you can use to turn frowns upside down in your stores.

At Ken’s Appliance & America’s Mattress Gallery in Grand Island, Neb., general manager Meridith Turner rented out the local cineplex for a private Disney screening for the entire staff and their families, with popcorn and soft drinks for all. Turner is also sensitive to her 30-person team’s work-life balance needs and will switch up scheduling to accommodate them.

“We just had our best month ever in March,” Turner said, “and I know that success is carried on the backs of our staff. I really try to constantly reward them as often as I can, even if it is just calling it out and telling them ‘good job’ or ‘I really appreciate you.’”

At Idler’s Home in California, rewards take the form of monthly giveaways, ranging from gift certificates to a Traeger grill, based on nominations by fellow employees. Jennifer Idler, the company’s director of HR and marketing, then creates “positivity posters” from the submissions, allowing staff at all Idler’s locations to share in the praise and recognition of their peers. “It’s been really fun,” she said.

Similarly, Florida’s Famous Tate touts its top-performing employees and departments via a “Good News” email that’s distributed throughout the company.

Back in California, Mark Pardini, principal of Pardini Appliance & Mattress, keeps his staff engaged with “hero bonus” payments and the perk of a free car wash whenever the company’s trucks are professionally cleaned.

Also rewarding work-stressed staff with bonus pay is New York’s Logel Appliance, which came through with “substantial” pre-holiday presents last November and may do so again this fall, said President Jennifer Lingenfelter. Elsewhere, Bob Coleman of Coleman’s BrandSource Home Furnishings in Canada hands out gift cards to the team, and also shares and quickly acts on all employee concerns. “The high morale meter really rocks when we give airtime to all to voice any concerns and then execute on the action faster than ever,” he said.

But perhaps the most popular and effective mood raisers revolve around food. At Tolson Appliance Center in Virginia, the store holds monthly lunches and cooking demos for staff using the company’s own grills (and rewards employees with gift cards for completing their trainings). Mark Lafferty of Lafferty’s Home Center in Texas treats the team to lunch each Saturday (and also gave all full-time employees an additional paid week off this year). And general sales manager Becca Resch at Orville’s Home Appliances in Upstate New York takes matters into her own hands by cooking and baking for staff.

But perhaps the most elaborate approach to morale building belongs to Frank’s Appliance Center & Sleep Source in Illinois. There, like Jackie King of Nampa Appliance, president JoAnne Keen has appointed a Director of Fun, who is tasked with “finding ways for all employees to have fun at work,” she said. Activities range from a potluck day with homemade soups and casseroles (ah, more food!), to a planned company picnic, to simply breaking out in song when customers aren’t around.

Other extras include celebrating work anniversaries with T-shirts, posters and decorations; a dry-erase board where employees are encouraged to share their personal thoughts and ideas; and distributing “anti-stress kits” comprised of a sheet of bubble wrap and the following instructions: “For immediate stress relief pop three Stress Relief capsules every hour as needed.” 

A simple dry-erase board, found in both Frank’s Appliance stores, provides a place to share messages, personal thoughts and morale-building praise among staff.

“Just having [a Director of Fun] in our company has made a difference,” Keen said. “Employees are more engaged and coming to work with a smile on their face. We could all use more fun in our work lives.”

For members looking for a more informal approach, BrandSource president Tom Bennett offered the following easy-to-execute ideas, culled from a cross section of dealers:

  • Reward staff with gift cards to local restaurants, to help struggling businesses and provide a meal after a long day at work
  • Hold a cornhole competition in the parking lot. No shop talk allowed!
  • A simple “Thank you!” goes a long way, particularly among the millennial crowd.
  • Set up a grill in the parking lot and serve up hot dogs and hamburgers.
  • Pizza for everybody!

BrandSource, a unit of YSN publisher AVB Inc., is a nationwide buying group for independent appliance, mattress, furniture and CE dealers.