Through these surreal times with the current pandemic and the measures I have made to help, I feel obliged to give acknowledgement to Asda.
Running and owning a B&B has been our life for the last 12 years and we love it. To run a business like that successfully, requires customers, especially returning customers who alleviate the levy on commission costs. Our business has indeed, so far, been very successful, won many awards and is a credit to the B&B inventory that belongs to the Great Yarmouth and Norfolk tourism offering.
Every year we have so many satisfied customers who pre book a room for later in the year or for the following year and deposits are gratefully received through the winter which help boost our ‘out of season’ income. That also gives us a core of people who we genuinely look forward to seeing again. From April until October we need to earn enough income to survive financially from November until April alongside the deposits we get. It all works perfectly well.
Then, in March 2020, came covid 19!!
With the onset of the virus and the measures put in place to help prevent the spread of the disease our customers disappeared which obviously resulted in zero income. We have 50% of the pre booked customers who were due to stay in March, April & May allowing us to retain their deposits for a future stay and the other 50% wanting refunds which, with no income proves difficult without defaulting elsewhere. A government grant has been received, thanks to the local authority working efficiently with the government, which will pay our bills for roughly 3 months, our insurance company refuse to help with business interruption, and it seems our bank, who we have never asked for help from before, has some small print that allows them to also refuse help with a commercial mortgage holiday. (We could be allowed to take out a further loan and add to our payments which really defeats the object of lowering our payments for a bit). We are also trying to obtain universal credit, but this is proving to be a very lengthy procedure which we have never had cause to think about before.
So, we sit and think, what can we do to pay our bills going forward? In 3 months, the government grant will be gone! there’s potential for the situation to continue for longer than 3 months and the bank nor insurance won’t help.
I heard from a friend that Asda was looking for help with shelf replenishment, order picking and delivering groceries through the pandemic. I spent 20 years in warehouse and distribution before buying our B&B and decided I would take advantage of the phone number that was passed on by my friend. As a result, I was offered a driving job on a rolling contract, until restrictions are lifted, and things start to get back to normal. Thank you Asda for the glimmer of light that leads to the knowledge that some help to pay some bills can be earned.
Procedure for an Asda delivery driver
Allocated a shift (any 7 or 8 hours between 7am to 11pm) by a department manager, we arrive on the loading bays in plenty of time, pick up our paperwork which highlights our pre-determined route with all customers names, addresses and special instructions such as self isolation requirements, which door to use, landmarks to look out for etc. The load/s we are allocated are order picked into bags within totes (a plastic basket that holds 3 bags) beforehand and assembled together with a sticker on the front which indicates the contents of that tote. The load’s tote labels are then scanned off to confirm everything is there (other than items not in stock), then it’s ready for the driver to load onto the 3.5 tonne van. After loading, the van is usually full to the top with groceries including the ambient (room temperature), chilled in the fridge section of the van and frozen in the freezer section for each customer.
Before the van is allowed on the road, a vehicle safety and security check is required to be completed by the driver. A handheld device called a ‘microlise’ is used for this. The van should also be equipped with surgical gloves, a hand sanitiser and a sack barrow for wheeling the totes to the customers door. The ‘microlise’, once logged onto, also contains all the information for that delivery round including the special instructions, and a very useful satnav which usually directs the driver to each customers address in order of time slots. So, with all checks made, the van loaded up and a ‘microlise’ logged onto, the driver is ready for the off. On arrival at the customers address, the driver will indicate on the ‘microlise’ that he or she has arrived which then shows how many of each type of tote is for that customer. Each tote label is scanned to reconfirm everything is there, and the groceries are wheeled to the customers door. If a customer is in isolation, the bags are taken out of the totes and left on the doorstep with the door being knocked or doorbell rang and the driver stepping well back. (we have to assess whether the customer is old enough to accept the delivery). If the customer isn’t in isolation then the groceries are wheeled up to the door, the door knocked or doorbell rang and the customer is asked where they would like their shopping. Sometimes the customer likes to take their own bags out of the totes, and some prefer the bags to be put just inside the doorway or porch etc. We are not allowed to enter the customers address.
Once that customer has received their groceries the ‘microlise’ is ready for the next one. The driver touches the customers’ name on the screen, any special instructions for that customer appear, followed by the satnav and off we go again.
On the road
From our base in Great Yarmouth, the deliveries cover not just Great Yarmouth and surrounding areas, but also further afield such as Cromer, Sheringham, King’s Lynn, Aylsham, Holt etc along with the many small and tiny countryside villages which you would think were only accessible by tractor. Some roads, being narrow can be very tight spaced with vehicles parked on both sides and to drive a 3.5 tonne van amongst them requires some patience, especially when another driver is driving towards us and we realise we have to reverse the van between the parked vehicles again once the customer has received their shopping. There is currently less traffic driving about as a rule and the main roads are easier to drive on but once we get on the back country lanes which is very often, a whole new world is opened up as the cyclists, joggers and dog walkers are all out in force, usually in the middle of the lane which slow everything down. Some seem to begrudge moving aside to allow us through until they are ready which is a little selfish I must say. Addresses can be a problem as some of them have long drives where we can’t see any numbers and some addresses don’t have numbers, they have names instead which can be very difficult to spot from the road, especially in the dark. We often have to climb out of the van, torch in hand looking for the address before we can unload their groceries.
There is a kind of comradery amongst all supermarket delivery drivers across all the supermarkets as each time we pass each other a hand is raised in acknowledgment of each other, as if to say, we’re all in it together which is nice, and also members of the public often wave at us whilst walking or give us a flash (with their headlights) as we drive past which is heart-warming and makes us feel we are doing something really good to help the country survive this situation.
I have a whole new perception of supermarkets now as I’ve always supported smaller, local businesses to provide the breakfasts for our B&B and we still hope to continue with this when things get back to normal, but the new perception I have is a realisation that Asda staff from high levels of management, to lower levels of management, to delivery drivers, to click ‘n’ collect staff, to till staff, to shelf replenishers, to pickers, to warehouse staff, to cleaners, and any other staff I’ve missed, all work hard and operate with just one focus (other than a wage) in mind, the customer. Each person who works in Asda, and probably the same in any supermarket, has no qualms about putting themselves at risk and turning up to work every day to make sure the public has everything they need.
Previously overlooked, the supermarket worker deserves everyone’s respect and admiration for carrying on, for without them, this situation would be far worse. A thank you would go a long way so here’s one from me:
THANK YOU ASDA AND ALL OTHER SUPERMARKET STAFF, YOU’RE DOING AN AMAZING JOB.
I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Gary Smith, Kilbrannan Guest House, Great Yarmouth.