ALL ABOUT THE PEOPLE
G . & E . • Hocker ’ s Supermarkets
Labor strains and inventory shortages have challenged retailers during the pandemic , but G & E / Hocker ' s Supermarkets has an independent advantage . Because of its veteran employees and longtime partnerships with suppliers — from poultry and meat processors to dairy vendors — the store was the only one in the region to keep proteins in stock for customers .
In the early months , panic-buying quickly overburdened the supply chain . Hocker ’ s would place an inventory order and most shipments came in at least 50 % short . Still , the store had an upper hand because of relationships , which led to new connections and new resources .
“ We were able to get a truckload of toilet paper and paper towels when others could not ,” says Gerald Hocker , President of the supermarket . “ There was an extreme meat shortage , but we were able to go elsewhere to buy it . For a while , I was the only store that carried meats .”
Thanks to dedicated employees , the store remained open their full , normal business hours , seven days a week . Hocker acknowledges , however , that since its seasonal foreign student workforce could not travel because of COVID-19 , it made scheduling a full store of employees difficult . “ Many of our employees are working overtime and more hours ,” he notes .
Their core staff chose to step up in a crisis , and their willingness to adapt allowed Hocker ’ s to continue supporting the communities they serve . “ There ’ s an advantage to having people who have worked for us for a long time — they treat this store like it ’ s their own ,” he says .
With more people eating at home , the grocery store business is booming , Hocker adds . Not to mention , as the No . 1 rated supermarket in the tri-state area , they have more online sales than ever before . “ Our success is in the team we have ,” Hocker says . “ Because of them , we have been able to stay open and take care of our customers .”
SUSTAINING A NEW VENTURE
A state order to shut down restaurants and bars in March when the coronavirus crisis broke out prompted Burley Oak Brewing Company in Berlin to reconsider its business emphasis . With the tap room and beer garden bringing in about 60 % of its revenue , and packaging accounting for 40 %, the brewery needed to flip its focus .
When everyone began dining and entertaining at home , demand surged for Burley Oak ’ s local beers , made from locally farmed grains . Responding to the need for to-go items , owners Bryan and Nicole Brushmiller removed tables and set up shelves in their Burley Café location , rebranding it as Lost Pantry . Along with breakfast and lunch , they now offer craft beers from multiple breweries , wine , and specialty grocery items you ’ d find in a fresh foods market . “ And we ’ ve upgraded our POS system to serve the segment of our customer base who want to order online ,” Bryan says .
During lockdown , the criteria for being an “ essential business ” varied from state to state , making it difficult to plan for reopening . The Brushmillers anticipated offering food could be a deciding factor in when they could reopen the tap room .
This inspired Bryan to finish a project he started two years ago – having a small commercial kitchen at the brewery . Once the tap room could open at 50 % capacity , Burley Oak safely reopened with social distancing protocols in place and a new walk-up restaurant , Uno Más Tacos , offering four taco options and a tray of nachos . It was an immediate hit at Burley Oak , selling well over 100 tacos per day .
Meanwhile , the Brushmillers remained committed to their vision of opening a new restaurant in downtown Berlin . Before COVID-19 , they purchased a 10,000-square-foot historic theater , gutted the space , and restored it .
The plan is to offer an event venue with food and beverage . “ We are transitioning to become more of a restaurant , and eventually build back in the theater side ,” says Nicole .
With assistance from SBA low-interest loans , Burley Oak continued construction of its new venture — called The Globe — during the pandemic . The brewery hired employees to staff the new location , and The Globe Gastro Theatre opened for business on Sept . 18 , 2020 .
“ You have to be prepared to go with the flow — to modify and adapt and be open to change ,” Nicole says . “ By doing so , we were able to keep our business growing and steady , and keep our staff employed .”
EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED
It ’ s important to have a business continuity plan , and just as important to be flexible enough to alter course when necessary . Local businesses like these are leading by example , staying adaptable to serve their customers and the community , and to be ready for whatever comes next . +
Cindy Hall joined Deeley Insurance Group in 2016 and was promoted to VP of Sales and Client Service in 2017 . She has over 26 years of leadership experience with Fortune 500 companies within the food services and hospitality industries . Cindy has an education degree , which supports her desire to continuously learn , promote team building and help individuals achieve goals . Cindy resides in West Ocean City with her husband and sons . She enjoys playing golf , boating , running and spending time outdoors . 410.213.5539 • chall @ deeleyinsurance . com