Exceeding the Standard 

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The COVID-19 pandemic took many businesses by surprise last year, leaving them with little time to adjust their operations in order to continue to serve their customers. While they couldn’t anticipate all the challenges or how long it would last, Lacks stayed ahead of the curve, springing into action to create a strategic plan for navigating this unprecedented challenge.

“We did anticipate a shutdown,” said Safety and Fleet Director Gloria Mendoza, explaining the preparation efforts in March 2020. “We communicated with our employees, making sure we were transparent with them and they understood everything that was happening.”

According to Human Resources Director Tammy Leal, the Lacks executive team began meeting in February as word of the virus was beginning to spread and decided to temporarily close March 18, ahead of Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order closing nonessential businesses.

“Realizing the severity of how contagious the virus is, we wanted to be safe,” she said.

The stores have since reopened, using CDC recommendations as a guide while also monitoring local case counts and hospitalizations. In order to serve the needs of their customers, Lacks allows walk-ins but continues to encourage customers to book an appointment with a dedicated sales consultant or to shop online.

 “Opening up has really been in phases.” Leal said. By listening to feedback from store directors and customers on a regular basis, Lacks has been able to responsibly and safely resume operations.

The first opportunity for partial reopening came Memorial Day weekend. Ahead of this, Mendoza and her team trained the 538 employees across the 11 Texas locations and supporting units on new safety protocols and what to expect upon their return. Confident in their ability and measures to reduce chances of the virus spreading as much as possible, they welcomed customers back.

To ensure a smooth return and that any potential hiccups could be swiftly and thoroughly addressed, not all the stores opened at once. The first store to reopen was the largest showroom in McAllen, then others, one by one, in the subsequent days.

“Some of our team members were scared at first to come back to work, and of course it was understandable — there was a lot of uncertainty,” said Training and Development Manager Benita Vasquez. “We trained stores; they would prepare the location, then they would reopen. As we continued doing this, employees saw that we were serious about the safety protocols and felt safe.”

Mendoza explains what the training — based off CDC guidelines and strategically tailored to each individual department for maximum effectiveness —  looked like.

“It started off with stopping the spread of germs — talking to them about how to make sure they wash their hands correctly, covering your cough or sneezing with a tissue, things like that,” she said. “Every single position had a little bit of a different procedure to follow — from our customer service associates to sales consultants and delivery drivers.

“We put posters throughout the locations and restrooms just as reminders on washing your hands and social distancing,” she added. “They do appreciate us going above and beyond to make sure they’re safe in our stores.”

Additionally, all locations keep a checklist of things to sanitize and disinfect three to four times a day, concentrating on high-traffic areas. Lacks’ safety measures earned them recognition from Rio Grande City for its “Top-Rated COVID-19 Best Business Practices.”

Safety training went well beyond the stores. The employees working in every other department also received special training for how to conduct their duties.

“If a customer were to come pick up furniture here, we asked them to stay in their vehicle,” Mendoza said. “Any employee that is assisting a customer has to wear PPE, gloves and a mask, any time they handle something going into a customer’s home.”

And to minimize the risk of entering a home with any potential cases of the virus, delivery drivers were trained to keep a 6-foot distance and to ask a list of questions. “Is anyone in the household sick, is anyone waiting on COVID-19 test results, and has anyone been in contact with a person who has tested positive for COVID-19?” she explained. “If a customer answers ‘yes’ to any of these questions, we’d have to reschedule delivery.” 

In the cases an employee discovers they were exposed to COVID-19, Lacks also has a protocol in place. The individual is assigned a case manager to follow them through the process — from getting tested to receiving the results and the recovery ahead, if they are infected.

“We follow CDC guidelines and are constantly following the county guidelines just to make sure that if an employee says they’re sick for whatever reason, we take the proper steps to make sure that nothing is spread here,” Mendoza said.

Further guidelines were developed for customers, which Mendoza said has been met with an excellent response.

When the statewide mask mandate was lifted in March 2021, Lacks made the decision to keep all safety protocols in place for as long as health experts recommend.

Recognizing customers have various needs and comfort levels for shopping, it’s been a priority for Lacks to take their preferences into account and offer different options.

“For us, utilizing our website to help serve customers who don’t feel comfortable engaging in-person is incredibly important,” Director of Content and Creative Jimena Peña-Garza said. “Keeping our website updated with COVID-related information as well as the latest products allows for customers to minimize contact with people outside their homes.”

As more people learn about the precautions being taken at all Lacks locations, Peña-Garza said customers are feeling more confident to shop in person.

“The pandemic has put everyone in an interesting position,” she said. “We are all spending more time at home, which makes it easy to identify things that could use refreshing. Now, more than ever, our customers are interested in making their homes more comfortable.

“We’re grateful for the trust our customers have in us to help make that happen.”

For more information, you can browse online at lacks.com or book an appointment with a store nearest you through the site.

Rocio Villalobos