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No mask, no service? C-stores have the right to require customers wear masks

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Customers hoping to get out of putting on a face mask to visit stores demanding they wear one, could be out of luck.

Experts agree with remarks Ontario Premier Doug Ford made on Friday, reminding Canadians that companies have the right to ask you to slip on a face covering or seek products and services elsewhere.

“Any business has the right to refuse anyone. That’s their business,” Ford said on a teleconference last week. “I highly highly encourage that people put on a face shield.”

He said he knows of two large grocery chains that have already adopted the “no mask, no service” policy meant to quell the spread of COVID-19.

The Canadian Press has been told by Longo’s and T&T supermarkets, Air Canada and Uber that shoppers, travellers and riders will be confronted with the mandatory policy at their stores and businesses.

Richard Powers, a University of Toronto associate professor with expertise in business law, said the policy is well within a company’s rights.

“The safety of retail workers and staff trumps the customers right to refuse wearing a mask,” he said.

“Businesses have a legal responsibility to create a safe working environment and if having people wear masks is a reasonable accommodation, which I think it is, to provide that safe environment, I believe that the retailer can refuse entry to someone who will not don a mask.”

City of Toronto spokesperson Diala Homaidan confirmed in an email that “no mask, no service” policies do not contravene any bylaws, but said such rules are not a requirement of business licensing and are left to the discretion of individual companies.

However, businesses that do implement such policies are likely to face concerns from Canadians with health conditions that are aggravated by masks.

Wearing a mask could contribute to an asthma attack for some, she said, while others with autism spectrum disorder may have trouble with sensory processing, as well as tactile, olfactory and nervous-system hypersensitivity that wearing a mask could trigger.

“Be very aware of those with different types of cognitive, intellectual disabilities, those who are hearing impaired and others,” Canada’s top health official said recently.

“Don’t assume that someone who isn’t wearing a mask or is wearing something different doesn’t have an actual reason for it,” chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said.

Powers believes this is a sign some retailers could be in for a fight.

“Someone will challenge that on whatever grounds–discrimination perhaps–and that creates a hassle for the retailer and an expense, if they choose to fight it,” he said.

Adam Savaglio, a partner at business and employment law firm Scarfone Hawkins LLP, said the policy creates “a dance” for companies, especially because governments are advising them to take precautions to protect people from COVID-19.

“It can create a potential discrimination claim because one of the grounds in Ontario, at least under the Human Rights Code, where an individual may have a claim, is they’re being adversely treated on account of a protected ground, in this case, disability,” Savaglio said.

“They may have a personal right of action against the owner of that business for denial of service.”

That can be juxtaposed with health and safety legislation under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, which says companies have an obligation to protect its employees from all reasonable or forseeable risks of harm.

“That creates a competing rights issue,” he said. “Who triumphs if the individual refuses to adhere to the protocol?”


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Online marketing: Be where your customers are

Screen Shot 2020-04-08 at 12.11.41 PMHow can a business offering products or services raise their reputation and visibility in the marketplace?

The answers aren’t the same as they used to be. In fact, research shows that when people check out product or service businesses, more than 80% use online sources of information compared to 55% using traditional references.

There’s no question that, in the modern business landscape, whether you’re a major corporation or a small business owner, a big part of your marketing strategy should be digital. Consumers are almost always online—and retailers want to be able to reach them and observe their behaviour where they spend the most time.

The reality is that in today’s content-driven online media world, while you may view yourself as c-store operator, a CPG marketer or a supplier, you’re also a publisher.  You must provide relevant content for your customers and potential customers, who, according to research from Ipsos, spend more than 10 hours a day consuming media in a variety of channels.

If you have no online presence, you don’t exist

Do you know how your business or how you yourself are appearing and coming across online? Your marketing plan must include building your online presence: You simply can’t operate a store or offer a service without a website and you cannot grow your brand without content.  

Content marketing contains all marketing strategies that focus on sharing information. It is an important aspect of an effective SEO strategy. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization: It’s the practice of optimizing websites to make them reach a high position in Google’s—or other search engines’—search results. SEO focuses on rankings in the organic (non-paid) search results.

Google’s mission is to organize the world’s online information and make it universally accessible and useful. Google wants to show its users the best result for any keyword. If you want to rank for that keyword—such as ‘convenience’— your aim should be to be the best result. It is attainable over time with a consistent effort of relevant content.  

Monitor your online presence

One key activity is to Google yourself and/or your business on a regular basis. What do you see? Anything interesting? Your online presence is something you’re going to want to monitor on an ongoing basis and improve upon whenever and wherever possible. 

The objective should always be organic results. And one of the best ways to achieve that is to start a Google My Business profile. Sign up is free and your business profile appears right at that key moment when people are searching for your business or businesses like yours on Google Search and Maps. You can even setup and build a website using their free website builder tool.

Customers can also review businesses and you can respond to Google reviews. Reviews are a powerful and effective way to boost your organic results. Online reviews help your business grow, recognize employees and help others learn about you.

Add email marketing to the mix

You might think that email marketing is dying or dead, but this is a myth. Even in 2019 people still open emails: With the broadest reach, lowest cost, easiest measurability and highest conversion rates, email still dominates online marketing channels. Studies show that email offers the highest return on your marketing dollars.

The same rules used in social media need to be followed.  Authenticity, target market and relevant content worth reading are essential. People’s inboxes are inundated. Get it wrong and you risk losing them for good. 

There are no second chances. 

Craft a strong message

Your message is what can make or break an online marketing campaign. Encourage readers to open your website, email or social media post by delivering a message that informs, entertains, and resonates. Create a catchy and meaningful website landing page or subject line with three or four strong key words and have a short lead-in sentence that will entice people to keep reading or offer value with promotions or useful information, like tips of the week.

When done well, online marketing is an effective way to communicate with your customers. It’s inexpensive, convenient and easy to track. Ensure that you develop an online marketing strategy that respects Canadian laws and targets your customers with the right message.

While the initial push may look and feel like marketing, the real outcome is an online community—this builds loyalty and trust with consumers, which ultimately drives traffic to your store. 

Gerry Spitzner helps retailers develop marketplace strategies to create, engage and keep customers for life. For more information about his approach, connect at retailSOS@gmail.com.


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What does your bathroom say about your business?

Screen Shot 2020-02-05 at 6.12.32 PMWhen it comes to service station satisfaction restrooms have been a source of customer appreciation since the invention of the automobile.

Back in 2016 the Whitecourt Esso Superstation won Canada’s Bathroom of the Year Award from Cintas and helped to showcase the power of a great gas station restroom. The site is located on Highway 43 between Edmonton and Grande Prairie on a route popular with tourists heading up to Alaska.

“We can have as many as 1500 customers a day pass through here and many people comment on how surprised they are by the quality of the bathrooms,” says Whitecourt ESSO GM Shelby Rondeau. She remarks that the extra effort in decor made by site owners, the Hommy family, has paid off with benefits being seen in returning trade.

Shelby reports that they receive constant comments on the quality of the site. “We have a lot of customers who are driving through from places like Texas. The marble and the chandeliers in the women’s restroom have earned a lot of positive attention from these folks, of whom many have told us they look to the Whitecourt Superstation as a stopping place each year on their holiday drive. They see other facilities on the way and their comments tell us they see us as the best in bathrooms.”

The Whitecourt Esso opened in 2015. The site offers eight gas and two diesel dispensers under the canopy as well as a substantial foodservice component that relies on a scratch kitchen. The manager tells OCTANE that they have staff perform a 45 minute deep clean twice a day and staff check the three (handicapped, men’s and women’s)10-foot by 15-foot (approx) bathrooms every hour to look for cleanliness challenges.

Screen Shot 2020-02-05 at 6.12.56 PMIn Red Deer, the ESSO Sweet Market is another example of how operators can use restroom facilities to create a positive guest experience. This station, located in Red Deer’s Gasoline Alley, is also operated by the Hommy family and opened only last Christmas (2018).  According to Sweet Market Manager Tim Anderson, the owners are serious about bathrooms. “The family has traveled a lot and they saw how important clean, comfortable and well-decorated facilities can be. I’d say they did this for their moms who saw lots of restroom horrors when they were traveling.”

Tim comments that what they have found is that a well-tended bathroom is respected by customers. “When the facilities are clean and maintained people don’t throw things on the floor or leave a mess. They treat it like home.”

Inside the Sweet Market site, they use both paper towels and air hand dryers to provide a choice for guests. Decor includes fully tiled walls and floors, hand-carved doors, chandelier lighting, and even smart glass doors that frost over for privacy when in use. Facilities are deep cleaned every 12 hours and checked routinely during the day to make sure everything is in tip-top condition.

Pilot Flying J is spending more than $100 million to enhance the bathroom experience for its customer base at some 650 locations throughout the US and Canada. Improvements include new Italian tile, state-of-the-art LED lighting, low water consumption toilets and eco-friendly dryers not to mention extra thick towels.

According to Pilot Flying J spokesperson Stephanie Myers, the company strives to make the restroom and shower experience as comfortable as possible. “Our new locations include clean, bright restrooms and spacious, private shower rooms with premium towels and quality shower heads with body wash dispensers. This year, as part of our effort to enhance the restroom and shower experience for our guests, we plan to upgrade our shower facilities and bathrooms at two locations in Canada including Winnipeg-Brookside, MB, and Kapuskasing, ON,” she says, adding that drivers can save time waiting for a freshly cleaned shower by reserving their shower with the Pilot Flying J app.

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Martin Couture of Groupe Naduc in Quebec city January 11, 2017. Photo Francis Vachon.

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