Best Buy Canada Pivots Over the Course of the Pandemic: VP Interview

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The past year or so has been a very interesting one for everyone involved in the retail industry from top level executives to the front line staff.

When Chris Sallans, Vice President – Retail & Services Operations and Fulfillment at Best Buy Canada, reflects on what has happened in that time frame he says “it has been one of the most challenging yet exhilarating, exhausting yet invigorating and frustrating yet inspiring times of my career.”

Chris Sallans

Sallans feels that while our return to normal is exciting and should be celebrated, it is equally important to remember and reflect on the hard work and sacrifice made by many to support their families and communities.

And the retailer could not have successfully navigated the stormy waters of the past year without the willingness of its staff to adapt to the changing environment. It’s a story that really resonates with most of the retailers in Canada.

“I am not sure if there will ever be a way for me to convey my absolute gratitude for the thousands of people in the Best Buy family for all that they have done,” he says.

“It has been a privilege to work alongside so many amazing Best Buy employees, both inside and outside our head office, as we tackled each and every unforeseen health restriction, forced closure or operating model adaptation – together.”

Sallans said from the beginning when the extreme uncertainty came in March 2020 the question for Best Buy, as for many retailers, was how to pivot to still be able to serve customers and exist as a business while being as safe of an environment as possible for employees and customers.

“The pivots we’ve had to make to fulfill in the safest mechanism possible we went through a multitude of operating model changes that would change with the governmental restrictions. More often than not we were generally in front of (them). We would be putting restrictions in place to our business before it was mandated. For example, we went to a limited, fully open, but limited capacity model long before any kind of capacity restrictions came in,” says Sallans.

The retailer was an essential service early on in the pandemic as it carries major appliances as well as communications, electronics and technology which increasingly became an important part of people’s lives during this tumultuous period.

Image: Best Buy Canada

From the beginning, the retailer responded to the changing dynamics the pandemic brought on for the retail industry. Everything from plexiglass protection to how people walked through the stores to how customers purchased and picked up products were all initiatives implemented for safety and convenience.

“By municipality we were able to change on a dime the way that a store operated,” says Sallans.

Being nimble became essential.

“Without question. But if you think about before that and going back before that, the importance of the equity you have with your employee base and your workforce. Because to be nimble, you’re going to ask a lot of people to be in a constant change of transition. Everyone gets excited with change when it happens once a year, twice a year. They get exhausted when it happens weekly – when every week you’re completely changing the way your store operates,” he says.

“The importance of keeping engagement high on the priority list to make sure that the emotional bank account we had built up with our people didn’t go into the overdraft because we were making some withdrawals for a little while there. I think the nimbleness without question was essential to survival in the pandemic but that couldn’t be done without being the people first company that we are and love to be – because we were going to need everyone to stand on their heads.”

Image: Best Buy

Sallans says it was important that employees believe in what a company is doing and they have to have an absolute trust that the company is looking out for their interests. 

“We’re coming out of this and everyone’s very excited. Restrictions are getting eased. We’re able to travel again right in time for nice weather. Let’s not forget to appreciate the super human efforts that 10,000 or so employees we have working with us have done over this last year because we’ve come out the other side because of them and I don’t for a second take that for granted. I want to make sure that gratitude is felt because I couldn’t appreciate more what everyone has done.”

Article Author

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He is the Senior National Business Journalist with Retail Insider in addition to working on his own as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training.

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