How have your job responsibilities and duties changed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic?
Prior to COVID-19, my job responsibilities were about 70% compliance and 30% safety. Now, 70% of my time is spent on COVID-19 related activities. One of the biggest responsibilities is making sure that we are following all the state and local ordinances and mandates. This is challenging given the variations in the different jurisdictions and the pace of change, especially early in the pandemic.
Our stores have stayed open this entire time, although some services such as grooming were temporarily closed. With stores being open, keeping our employees, customers, and pets safe was and still is of upmost importance. For example, we quickly had to assess and update the hand sanitizers, cleaners and other health & safety items that we use in store. We searched through 30 to 40 vendors to make sure we were bringing in the right products because not only did the products have to be effective, they also could not harm our pets.
We also prioritized tracking COVID-19 data to understand the trends in different areas and how it might impact our operations. This was especially important in states like California and Texas, where we have a lot of stores and our support centers are located. On top of these COVID-19 related duties, we still had a responsibility to stay in compliance with environmental regulations and we made sure to work closely with regulators.
Are you having to address any additional compliance issues as a result of COVID-19?
There have been additional mandates we have had to follow with a good portion of them coming from the internal Petco team. For example, masks are mandated for all staff and customers. Early on, gloves were mandated for staff but are now optional. We added sanitation stations with hand sanitizers, as well as a safety table at the front of the store with wipes and sanitizer. We also have made masks available for guests that might need one. It was important for us to ensure our sanitation processes met Petco policies which includes making sure sanitation products don’t pose harm for pets.
Outside of these new mandates, our existing compliance obligations have stayed the same. For example, with solid waste, while there is an increase in discarded PPE, we can treat masks and gloves as regular waste.
Have you had any operational changes in response to covid-19?
Our operations have changed significantly. Petco stores are considered an essential service, so we have stayed open but have modified our operations to help protect our employees and customers:
Employees – Staff complete temperature checks via our infrared scanner upon arriving for shifts. The same procedures apply to vendors who plan to be in store locations longer than 30 minutes. Currently 90% of support center staff out of San Diego and San Antonio are working from home. Soon, we plan to have a modified work schedule, with centers at only 50% capacity. We will have an A and B group who work alternate days. We also plan to add limitations and social distancing guidelines to the cafeteria, cubicles, etc.
Store Safety- We modified our store hours to reduce foot traffic. We have increased disinfection at high touch areas. To begin with, we were disinfecting about six times a day and are now at about three times a day. We also installed plexiglass at registers and have promoted cashless transactions.
Products – With the growth of online purchasing, we had to minimize the number of nonessential SKUs to keep up with orders. We are continuing to evaluate limiting the number of SKUs to focus on quality over quantity. For example, rather than offering 50 different pet shampoos, we are looking at carrying the top brands for our guests.
Delivery and In-Store Pickup – We now have about 500 ship from store locations, which decreases store foot traffic while maintaining customer sales. We also added curbside delivery, where customers can buy online and pick up curbside at their local store. Customers can even do a “takeout” option where they provide a list to staff at the store and items are brought to their car.
Mobile vet clinics – Our mobile clinics were shut down for two months, but they are now open. Customers must schedule an appointment time which gives us the opportunity to put social distancing measures in place.
Pet grooming – 90% of our grooming salons were closed for two months but are now open. Pet parents must do curbside check in for grooming appointments. Petco staff meet pets and parents at their car and bring in pets for grooming, while the parents stays in the car.
Dog training – Our dog training was temporarily shut down and is still at limited capacity. We are looking to provide online videos and training.
With the EPA temporarily providing enforcement discretion, have inspections changed for your store locations? Any changes to state inspections or responses?
We have had several virtual inspections, for which we had to send in pictures of our hazardous waste areas. A few inspectors have come into store locations, but the inspections have been relatively brief. The inspectors had minimal interaction with staff, took pictures and then followed up via email for more information. We temporarily stopped the return orders and extended returns to 90 days. The resulting volume of return orders when we lifted moratorium made managing our hazardous waste storage area more challenging. In California, we have two of our internal California auditors back out to help with hazardous waste compliance and see that CUPA regulators are gearing back up.
What has been your biggest lesson dealing with the uncertain times of COVID-19?
It is important to stay nimble and flexible as things will constantly change. Engaging with the right people from the start is crucial to staying afloat. We very quickly put together a taskforce, created a chain of command and structured our procedures and communication.
What are some expected long term changes for your Petco stores and operations?
We expect to continue to drive e-commerce while keeping pick up in store and curbside delivery options. We are also looking to increase stores that have one-way delivery. Using electric pallet jacks our store partners can unload products with minimal interaction with driver. Lastly, we are planning to integrate our technology to have a one stop shop for our staff. Right now, we have different platforms for training, online orders and returns. Consolidating to one platform will help us be more efficient during a busy and constantly changing time.
What tools or resources can you share with other retailers balancing environmental compliance, employees, customers and COVID-19?
RILA has had great resources for Petco and other retailers. We participate in the Environmental Compliance Committee meetings, where resources on compliance and safety are frequently provided. We also keep up with the Retail Compliance Center’s Changes to State Environmental Regulations, RILA’s Retail Operations COVID-19 Resource Library and many other resources.
Outside of RILA, we use trackers like John Hopkins or Google’s COVID website which has county level information. We also frequently visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s website which flags changes on their front page as well as OSHA information.
Interested in learning more about Petco?
To learn more, visit: Petco.com. You can get all the latest Petco is doing around COVID and take advantage of our many educational topics for your pets here also.
Amy Ebersole-Martinez, Manager of Environmental, Safety and Health for Petco Animal Supplies, in San Antonio, Texas. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Clinical Laboratory Science from the University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio. After graduation, Amy started her ESH career at SeaWorld in the lab, working with the vet to monitor the health and wellbeing of the animals and the water they live in. She quickly got engaged in Lab Safety which then carried over the Safety and Environmental health of the park and its employees. Lockheed Martin was her next adventure. She worked in the MRO facility helping to facilitate the maintenance, repair, and overhaul and testing of the engines that support our military and the Presidential Air Fleet. Operational Technologies, a small supply chain and logistics company recruited her to join their team. They needed someone to start up an ESH program for their growing business here in the states and in Mexico. During that time she was able to get them ready to apply for their ISO 14001 Certification. She was actively engaged in EMS systems including OHSAS 18001 and ISO 14001. She gained invaluable experience in not only the Entertainment industry but also was able to work in Aerospace and Logistics Management.
She is board certified with ASCP and is the Co-Chair of the RCC for RILA, and has more than 18 years of experience in the Safety and Environmental field.
All of her previous training and experience led to her current position Petco, where she manages the entire company’s Environmental, Health and Safety program for two corporate offices, 9 Distribution Centers and 1500+ stores nationwide. She is also heavily engaged with the growth of the Vet Hospitals and ensuring compliance with all regulations around Veterinary medicine.
RETAIL COMPLIANCE CENTER
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