By Tony Hooker
With COVID-19 continuing to dominate our lives, I thought it would be good to check in with local businesses to see how they’re adapting. This is the third in a series of planned articles. This week, I caught up with a banker and a hardware store owner.
Don Cler, Villa Grove State Bank
How long have you been in the banking industry?
I’ve been in the industry since 1987, so this will be 33 years.
Is there anything in your 33 years in the industry that can compare to what’s happening now?
Nothing. Never. We went through the housing crisis in 08-09, but nothing compared to a pandemic like this.
What sort of steps have you taken as an institution to address this?
We’re obviously trying to follow the social distancing guidelines and stay at home guidance that Governor Pritzker has put into place, so with our staff, we’ve gone to work every other day. We basically work with the same people and keep people apart as much as we can, so if someone would contract the virus, we would have a group who hopefully would not have had contact with them so we would be able to stay open and keep things rolling. We’ve closed our lobby to an appointment basis only. We’re still offering the same services as before, but we’ve tried to slow down the number of walk-ins. If someone needs to get in their lock box or anything like that, they can call, and we’ll let them in. Everyone still has access to the same services, just on a limited basis at this time.
I know that you’ve been emphasizing your online services for the past while, so that was rather fortuitous, right?
The timing of that was good. We’re encouraging people to not only use the drive-up, but also to utilize the online banking even more, so the timing on that was pretty good.
Do you see any changes in your business processes that might continue after we return to whatever normal will be?
<chuckles> Yes, it’s going to be a new normal for all of us, that’s for sure! I think, like we just talked about, I think that a lot more people are going to continue to do electronic and online banking. I would anticipate that the walk-in traffic into the lobby will never get back to what it was before. People have realized that the drive-up and online banking are very convenient. People can get the same services done, and it’s more on their schedule.
How has the overall spirit or mood of your clientele been through all of this?
Actually, it’s been very, very positive. We were concerned about that when we decided to lock the lobby and go to appointments only. I think people have been very appreciative of what we’re doing and that we’re looking out for the safety and health of not only our staff, but also our customers. I think everybody gets it. We’re in unprecedented times here. We’ve been in contact with other banks in the area and with our regulatory agencies, and we’re trying to follow a pattern that is similar to what they’re doing. I think the customers appreciate what we’re doing.
Is there anything you would like to add?
We appreciate everyone’s cooperation. We don’t know how long this is going to last. We will follow the governor’s orders and wishes. We want to get back to normal as soon as possible, but at the same time, we have to be concerned with the health and safety of our staff and our customer base.
Darren Gilles, True Value
How long have you been in the hardware business?
My parents opened this in 1985, so it’s been 35 years.
Has there ever been anything that can compare to this?
No. Nothing at all.
Has it had a negative impact on your business?
No. The opposite. It’s been a positive.
What sort of changes have you made to the way you’re doing things?
We disinfect about every hour, the pay station and the door handles, if we don’t have them open. We’ve got stickers on the floor to assist with social distancing.
Have you continued to do your flooring installation during this time, while following the social distancing requirements?
It’s basically up to the homeowner. We’ll do whatever they want us to do, and so far it’s been good.
What’s the mood of your customers been like?
It’s been pretty positive. I think people are getting restless and tired of being locked down! <smiles> That’s one thing that’s helped our business is that people are shopping locally. As you know, a lot of our population works in Champaign or Charleston, so having to stay locally has encouraged them to shop here or at Rick’s and to help the restaurants in town that have curb service, as well.
Do you think your business has evolved practices that will stay when we return to whatever normal is?
We’ve always tried to keep our pay station clean and now that’s been stepped up to about every hour. About the only thing that’s really changed is the social distancing, and with the layout of my store, it’s difficult to just stand around. I seldom have more than 10 people in my store at a time.
Has there been a larger interest in your garden center?
There’s been a great amount of interest, both in our lawn care and in our garden center. We just received our second set of plants, so the first shipment went pretty well.
Is there anything you would like to add?
No, other than that I appreciate the citizens of Villa Grove and the surrounding areas that have supported us. I hope that once things return to normal, that our new customers will decide to keep coming back. We’ll continue to support them by getting the things that they need.