Pictured: Matty Hullinger, staff member at Real Cheap Sports helps make sure all protocols are in place. Photo submitted.
by Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer
Real Cheap Sports in Downtown Ventura reopened on May 12 after a two-month closure. Like many retail operations that unlocked their doors during Stage 2 of California’s Pandemic Roadmap, it found that business was anything but usual.
“We have a meeting each morning to go over the protocols,” says owner Tim Coates.
Those protocols — undertaken to keep the sporting goods store compliant with state guidelines — cover everything: health and safety, cleanliness, social distancing, handling of merchandise, interaction with customers.
“It’s very detailed,” Coates confirms.
Before opening, Coates did a risk assessment and came up with a site-specific protection plan, then brought his 11 employees in for training.
“We went over protocols every day for a week,” he recalls.
Real Cheap Sports is now divided into three stations, each with a dedicated employee — all of whom wear company-provided masks. Cleaning protocols are thorough: Everything from desks and handles to light fixtures to computer equipment to ink pens gets cleaned before opening, after closing and between shifts. As employees found areas for improvement, Coates incorporated their suggestions. “I’m proud of our employees for helping to refine our protocols.”
Real Cheap Sports was able to hit the ground running partially because its team was ready and waiting for reopening: Coates kept everyone on staff and paid them through the shutdown.
“This is a strong business,” Coates says. “We do well. So we had some reserves . . . We were running out, then we got the Paycheck Protection Program money. That helped us to continue to keep employees.”
He understands that the work environment is dramatically different than before the pandemic, and has made an effort to put staff at ease in the face of stress, discomfort from wearing masks for hours on end, or anything in between.
“I wanted to make the workplace as comfortable, fun and creative as possible,” Coates says. “We’ve been encouraging breaks — there’s a spot outside with a table. We’re taking more breaks.”
Coates acknowledges that sales are way down — about 25 percent of average. But he chooses to be optimistic, saying, “That’s more than we were doing the last few months!”
Real Cheap Sports is doing business through its online store and for curbside pickup. Coates plans to eventually invite customers back into the store, but doesn’t want to rush the process.
“We put a lot of work into this . . . so we want to put in the same meticulous thought into the expanded environment as we did with curbside,” he says. Coates says only a limited number of customers will be allowed in at a time. They’ll be required to wear masks (hopefully their own, but he’ll have disposables available as well) and encouraged to use store-provided hand sanitizer. Plexiglass is being put up near the register area. Anything customers try on will probably sit in “quarantine” for four days before it goes back on the shelf.
“We’re working through those protocols and won’t [allow customers inside] until we’re fully confident with it,” Coates says.
When Real Cheaps Sports does allow in-store business, he hopes that customers will be patient with staff and all the changes that have been implemented.
“We are still in a pandemic,” Coates says. “Staying home for two months is going to turn out to be the easy part. Reopening businesses with new protocols in place to keep employees and customers safe is a challenge. Please be patient, understanding and respectful to the retail worker in this new phase. We are all doing the best we can to serve you. We are all in this together.”
Real Cheap Sports, 36 W. Santa Clara St., Ventura, 805-648-3803, www.realcheapsports.com.