It has been a real challenge to get enough stock in to meet customer demand over the last few weeks but our supply chains are now making good progress to catch up, Tenterfield Foodworks owner Peter Hay said. "We're looking after everyone the best we can."
With limited supplies of much-in-demand items like toilet paper, Mr Hay and wife Catherine went to the extent of themselves purchasing bulk packs of toilet paper and giving them out in packs of two rolls to those who are getting desperate.
"We're doing what we can to stop the pain and stress, and buy some time," he said.
He is joining the chorus of grocery retailers urging people to only stock enough essentials to carry them through the next 2-3 weeks at most, to allow supply chains to catch up.
"Currently there's two years' supply of toilet paper out there," he said, "it's just that it's not evenly spread.
"Manufacturers are working 24/7 to produce more, but the supply chain takes time to react.
"The majority of our range is steadily recovering, it is only a handful of sections that need time to restock. We just have to calm down over the next week or two and we'll catch up."
He said supplies of some staples like long life milk, sugar and coffee are seeing strong improvements, but items like household disinfectants will take longer as a lot is imported from overseas.
"Suppliers and the Metcash warehouses have been doing an amazing job getting the supplies they have to independent supermarkets."
He said the group, which includes Matador Meats in Tenterfield and Foodworks outlets in other towns, is doing everything it can to protect team members while looking after customers under these trying circumstances.
The store has always offered home deliveries to their customers with email and phone orders but has also fast tracked an online shopping platform which will be available in the next few days to handle the increased requests for home deliveries. This service will also have a click & collect option as well, especially for those outside town limits.
When it does go live, Mr Hay encourages customers to use the facility as much as possible to streamline in-store processes. This will also free up the phone lines for people who don't have access to the internet, especially some of the older customers . Orders and inquiries can still be emailed through to email@example.com.
Mr Hay is anticipating a subsidised pack-and-deliver fee of around $5 for online orders but no more than $10. He said if the majority of orders are placed online rather than by phone it will help to streamline the system and keep costs down for everyone.
Order delivery capacity is also being ramped up, potentially using additional vehicles left idle through COVID-19 business closures to help with the demand (and to provide some income to those affected businesses).
Mr Hay is also looking to recruit past team members who may now find themselves out of work, to increase the business's capacity to scale up quickly.
Still the in-store shoppers will always be looked after, he said, although measures are in place to protect staff and customers. There's mandatory social distancing of 1.5 metres in the shop, no more than two people at a time in enclosed spaces like offices, staff are gloved and they are even issued with their own pen to discourage items being transferred.
Face masks will be available in the next week or two as well as bulk hand sanitiser. There's also a request for customers to not bring reusable bags into the store.
Anyone who is unwell is urged to stay away and instead have their orders delivered.
"We are adapting every day for everyone," Mr Hay said.
The front doors to Matador Meats in Rouse Street are now closed in order to insulate its butchers from the virus to ensure continuity of supply. Its products, however, remain available through Foodworks and anyone with a special order or requiring a private kill can call the butchers to make arrangements.
"We're hoping for the best but preparing for the worst," Mr Hay said.
"We still have to feed people."