The new rules for business
Mask mandates due to the coronavirus pandemic put onus on business owners throughout Oregon.
It is unlikely that many business owners include "enforcing state-issued mandates" on a list of things they enjoy about their roles.
Like it or not, though, that's suddenly become a big part of the job description in the state of Oregon.
Earlier this month, Oregon Governor Kate Brown joined other elected officials across the Pacific Northwest in ordering businesses to require the use of face coverings by all customers or visitors. This includes all indoor spaces and outdoor spaces where social distancing can't be maintained, as of July 29.
Any business that fails to meet those expectations risks heavy fines or, even worse, the suspension of their operating license. In fact, Oregon's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has clearly stated that fines will be levied for businesses "willfully defying" the mask mandate and that "simply posting a sign" that masks should be worn is not enough. The state of Oregon and its regulators fully expect businesses to engage with customers who are not wearing a mask and refuse service otherwise.
This order places a lot of unrequested responsibility on business owners at a time when attracting customers has not been easy. Questions around exemptions, differences between employee enforcement versus customer enforcement, and much more are explained in detail on the Oregon Health Authority FAQ. Hint: there is not a lot of wiggle room.
Despite the extra hurdle added to their operations, some businesses, like Evergreen Market, a recreational cannabis retailer based out of Auburn, Washington, are recognizing the purpose of the mandate and acting accordingly.
This industry is particularly unique in a couple of ways: Dispensaries were deemed essential early on and allowed to stay open. Additionally, this industry serves medicinal purposes, meaning the folks coming in might be looking for a respite from cancer, which is quite different from returning to your favorite restaurant for a good meal.
Though the cannabis industry differs between Oregon and Washington, expectations around protecting customers are largely the same.
"As a company, we're very aware of the responsibility that we have," says Nikki Marrangon, marketing manager of Evergreen Market. "We have hundreds of customers that come across all five of our stores every single day. That's a lot of people, right? So, if there are a couple who feel really passionately about not wearing a mask, that's fine. But we also feel very passionately about defending public health. So, we can't let them in, you know."
How enforcement happens
Keeping those face mask-averse customers out of stores largely depends on employees for enforcement, though. And so far, that format hasn't exactly produced a stellar success rate. A recent survey of grocery store employees revealed that seven out of 10 weren't enforcing mask mandates in their store. Their inaction renders the mandate mostly meaningless.
So how has Evergreen Market been able to get their employees onboard? How might other small businesses follow suit? To state things too simply, they hire the right people. Their team members possess empathy, dependability and a consistent sense of calm. Those are especially important skills right now.
Your employees must be willing to speak up in a professional yet assertive manner.
"Obviously, cannabis enthusiasts aren't exactly known for getting really riled up," says Marrangon. "But the people we hire are really great at de-escalation and are really great at having an understanding voice and sympathizing with somebody's thoughts and position. They also recognize that this is policy. This is what we have to be doing."
What Evergreen Market is doing now seems smooth because those actions are in line with what they've already done. Long before mandates were issued, the cannabis retailer had already asked customers to social distance and pushed for more purchases to be made online.
There was also the installation of the Dial A Budtender (DAB) — a phone-operated program that delivers customized customer service without the danger of face-to-face interaction. This last piece is an important consideration for the cannabis industry, where customers often have a bevy of questions, but is also critical across other industries where customer connection is paramount.
"People really like to talk to their budtender to get their recommendations, and by placing an order online, you may miss that whole personal experience," says Marrangon. "So, what we did was put together somewhat of a call center. The budtender can use their laptop to look up products and be sure they're getting great answers to people's questions."
Profit vs. Protection: How to pick priorities
Oregon state's current mask mandate may make digital services a preferred alternative for both businesses and customers, but such changes can impact the bottom line. When your way of doing business changes — because you're forced — your customer base can change, too.
In the current climate, though, that could be for the best.
For Marrangon and the rest of the Evergreen Market team, as important as financials are to defining operational success, right now, those numbers aren't the priority. Compliance is the key.
"Our concern is definitely more on the health and safety of our customer than if we're going to beat our numbers from last year. If we make a little bit less money than we have historically, that's fine, as long as more people are safe."
Learn how your business can use trust to navigate government guidelines and overcome obstacles resulting from the pandemic.
Danielle Kane is the Portland Marketplace Manager for Better Business Bureau Northwest + Pacific. She can be reached at 503-833-2301.
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