The past weeks have seen a drastic and unprecedented change in the way New Zealanders live, with ramifications well beyond the lockdown period most are only just beginning to consider.
This period has also witnessed an abundance of commitment, hard work and good humour as the country works to protect individuals, families and the economy as much as possible. The country’s prime minister has effectively declared war on Covid-19, and her country are behind her.
Ruralco staff have dug deep in a short time, relocating to homes for work, establishing distancing at critical Farm Supplies Stores and realigning the business to continue serving shareholders.
Rob Sharkie, Ruralco Chief Executive says he has been overwhelmed at the level of commitment and hard work the Ruralco team have made to try and keep business as “normal” as possible.
“We now have two teams of staff, those continuing to work in the stores and the rest of our staff working from home. We have shown how quickly we can adapt to such a different environment. We have been able to give our staff and our shareholders some surety.
“We may be a small co-op, but we can move quickly compared to larger businesses and move as a very tight, unified team.”
For Sarah Green, Ruralco’s GM People and Capability, the most immediate challenge has been to ensure the frontline Farm Supplies staff are safe and that those who are required to work from home were supported to do so.
“With all three stores being open for shareholder business, we are acutely aware of our need to protect them and meet our Covid-19 obligations,” she says.
Working with Jono Pavey, Ruralco’s GM Farm Supplies the team have ensured good separation between the Farm Supplies team and customers.
Customers are being encouraged to pre-order through Ruralco’s online order facility or through the customer service centre and account managers, now operating remotely from the homes.
“Once the order is in, it’s just a case of assembling it, completing the paperwork and having it ready for collection.” For those customers who are not able to pre-order we set up barriers at the front of each store and only allow 2 customers to approach the barriers ensuring they are always at least 2m apart from each other and our staff. We are operating with the recommended standards as an essential business ensuring our service remains contact-less.”
To give more peace of mind to loved ones at home, Ruralco staff families also have full access to any of the wellbeing resources offered to staff.
“They need to feel happy and confident seeing them go off to work each day, and we are very conscious Ruralco is part of a much wider family community beyond just our immediate staff,” says Sarah.
Settling into the “new normal” for the coming weeks whatever this may look like, Ruralco is conscious many will be juggling children and household demands, and Sarah is encouraging managers to be as flexible as possible to keep stress levels manageable.
Jono Pavey says shareholders can be assured stocks of most products are good, and his staff are working in the background with suppliers whose production or ability to source product may have been affected by the Covid-19 shutdown.
“For anyone looking out through the autumn period we have a good supply of seed, agricultural chemical, fencing & animal health products, with fertiliser supplies from Ballance also good,” he says.
“But it pays to give yourself plenty of time when ordering, just to allow for longer lead times with freight, and accept you may not be able to make multiple trips into the stores, and give us a reasonable amount of time to deliver on farm where required.
“The one upside is that at least it is autumn, rather than in spring-time which may prove a real challenge for northern hemisphere farmers starting their new season.”
Rob Sharkie says having the support of a board that appreciates the challenges of this “new normal” has also given Ruralco’s executive team the confidence to make the major decisions in recent days to keep the co-operative focused and calm over a tough time.