COVID-19 Essentials is a startup designed to end with the pandemic

Discussion
Photo: The Mall at Short Hills
Oct 21, 2020
Matthew Stern

Retailers usually open their doors in hopes of having a long, sustainable future. A recently opened chain, however, can’t wait for the day its selection of products is no longer a necessity.

COVID-19 Essentials, a retail chain geared entirely toward COVID-19-related products and accessories, recently opened a location in Park Meadows, CO, one of its eight locations throughout the country, according to Kaiser Health News. The retailer sells an array of masks, from merely functional to fashionable and from low-price to top-of-the line. It even offers mask customization.

COVID-19 Essentials also sells hand sanitizer, devices for the contact-free opening of doors, ultraviolet light devices for disinfecting and other solutions to meet public health needs in the era of the novel coronavirus. The chain began early in the pandemic in a suburban Miami shopping mall to meet the need for N95 masks. The chain’s other locations are in New York City, New Jersey, Las Vegas and Philadelphia. COVID-19 Essentials is planning to open additional locations in California.

While the multi-store chain may be the first concept fully dedicated to selling pandemic protection products, other brands have opened one-off shops with a similar focus.

A PPE-focused store called Shield Pals opened in June in a mall in Columbia, MD. The store sells a line of fun masks and face shields featuring cartoon animals and other designs, primarily geared towards dentists and others in roles working with children.

The sudden need for PPE has offered opportunities for other operators as well.

Crafting marketer Etsy, for example, had struggled prior to the pandemic. When the outbreak began, Etsy first experienced a bottoming out and then saw sales explode as its artisans helped fill a need to face masks and other products in demand by consumers forced to stay at home.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you see opportunities for COVID-19-focused retail concepts to be successful in markets across the U.S.? Will new habits, such as mask wearing, become routine practices in a post-pandemic world, and what will it mean for retail?

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"Over time, the specific products will change, but the category of PPE and consumer safety will provide the logic for the assortment."

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21 Comments on "COVID-19 Essentials is a startup designed to end with the pandemic"


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Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

Interesting concept, but betting on a permanent impact of COVID-19 and related maladies as a focus seems limited. While there’s no doubt the concept makes great sense during pandemics, I question whether there is a bigger/sustainable market for this retail concept. I hope not!

Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

If this is a long-term play, we’re all in real trouble!

Art Suriano
Guest

Do you see opportunities for COVID-19-focused retail concepts to be successful in markets across the U.S.? Well for them to be successful, the pandemic will have to last a very long time. So, my answer: I hope not. This pandemic has not only caused over 200,000 deaths, but it has destroyed many people’s lives. Suicide rates are up, bankruptcies are up along with depression and an increase in the divorce rate. But a business solely based on the pandemic’s needs makes me see this as an ominous reminder of what each of us is dealing with every day during these difficult times. Will it be successful? I’m sure it will make money in the short term, but hopefully, by mid-spring 2021 will begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel with COVID-19 and, if so, I can’t see this idea and business investment as being that wise.

Gary Sankary
BrainTrust

This may be a niche too far. The products that people need to protect themselves from COVID-19 are masks, face shields, hand sanitizer, and gloves. These are all products that are available at drugstores, big box stores — almost everywhere. The initial shock to the supply chain for these items has for the most part, been resolved and availability doesn’t seem to be much of a problem. That leaves this retailer with custom masks — is that enough to make a go in mall? I don’t see it.

Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

Covid Essentials may be opportunistic, but I’m not sure this has the makings of a sustainable business. First, its Park Meadows store is inside a big regional mall — not the most desirable or convenient place to shop during a pandemic if this is the location strategy.

Second, its assortment of masks, hand sanitizers, etc. is broadly available at discounters, pharmacies and online. There may be a long-term acceptance of mask usage during heavy flu seasons (as in Asia) but this is a business model that may not last (at least let’s hope not).

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

I think this is best described as a temporary pop-up. I am more than happy to wear a mask while the pandemic is a threat, just as I am comfortable taking any other sensible precautions. However once the pandemic is over and it is safe, my mask is going in the trash! That said, there may be a longer-term demand for masks from people who are immunosuppressed or those who have colds or flu and don’t wish to spread their illness around. But the volume of such demand won’t be sufficient to sustain this kind of store.

Scott Norris
Guest

North America is always a couple years behind Asia in technology and fashion – face masks were worn out on the street commonly (not universally it was not strange to see 50 percent+) even in the “Before Times.” As face masks become functional fashion and care for one’s fellow humans becomes more of a social norm, we might just see them become a staple item in the U.S. and Canada, too.

Mohamed Amer
BrainTrust

The company is leveraging unmatched awareness of a top-of-mind event and life experience as its namesake, ensuring high recall despite the associated mixed imageries. Over time, the specific products will change, but the category of PPE and consumer safety will provide the logic for the assortment. Post-pandemic habits will linger longer than expected. Given the national scale, the numbers will justify such a retail concept and sufficient runway to create the next leg for its growth trajectory.

Ed Rosenbaum
BrainTrust

Let’s hope this is a short lived opportunity. The thought of it lasting more than several months is bothersome.

Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

This is an extremely niche startup, and the COVID-19 Essentials store is going up against far more mature organizations, including pharmacies, grocery stores, convenience, and even apparel companies, who have already shifted their operating models to meet the surging demands. In addition, the consumer already has significant choices, and will not necessarily go out of their way to go to a pandemic themed store when their favorite retailers and brands are already offering the same if not superior quality products.

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

It’s interesting that they chose such a specific “brand” name for the store, which automatically defined the shelf life of the concept. It’s also notable that there wasn’t already a health and wellness store that could quickly pivot to being the primary problem solver for COVID-19 and then pivot to other, more general health and wellness solutions with long life.

Patricia Vekich Waldron
Staff

Sounds like a pop-up concept that can morph into other wellness products and services.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust

Maybe morphing into the “Emergency Response” store in the future? Adding products for home safety, etc.? It’s a bit of a stretch and still very niche, but it could happen!

Steve Montgomery
BrainTrust

Many of the items that went mainstream because of COVID-19 are also effective in combating the annual flu. My expectations is masks may not ever be a year-round item but they will become a seasonal item from now on.

As Brandon pointed out there are many retailers who have added them and other COVID-19 related PPE items to their standard stock. I would expect COVID-19 Essentials locations will have a short shelf life, at least I hope so.

Patricia Vekich Waldron
Staff

Perhaps they are looking to be acquired by a healthcare provider, retailer … or Amazon!

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
BrainTrust

Certainly there is great demand for PPE items and related products and the demand may continue for some time. Naming your retail outlet after COVID-19 may not be such a good idea because there may be a need to pivot and add other kinds of products, making the name ineffective. The article did not say whether they have an online presence and I could not find them online. People may be reluctant to shop for these items in a store but would like to purchase them online. Without the ability to sell online and the ability to change product selection as circumstances change, the chance for long term success is small. It is more likely that successful items with long term appeal will be sold in other outlets.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

The correct answer is, we just don’t know. The operators of these COVID-19 concept stores clearly are thinking more like “pop-up” merchants than institutional brand builders and that makes sense. But don’t most people already have “go to” sources for these products? Even my favorite tie maker, Dominic Pangborn, has a line of beautiful high-fashion masks out. So with PPE available everywhere from CVS to haute couture boutiques what would fuel these temporary concepts? Ah yes, broader contagion and a shortage of supply. I think some percentage (a minority certainly) of Americans will keep wearing masks post-COVID-19 — assuming there ever is a post-COVID-19 — but I’m not sure there will be enough of them to make a market. I guess we’ll all know sooner or later.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

As a stand-alone store, this idea is a “gimmick” — meaning short lived and quickly forgotten. That doesn’t mean they can’t make some decent quick profits. Rather, they’ll never build the respect of a brand.

On the other hand, building specialty stores within a store makes complete sense because that store doesn’t have to be entirely profitable — it adds to the brand experience and draws new consumers in.

Cynthia Holcomb
BrainTrust

COVID-19 has ignited a new health-based awareness of how to protect one’s self from contracting viruses in general. Flu, cold, pneumonia, etc. infect millions and millions of people annually. New health self-care and personal viral-protective products are on the horizon. The dramatic COVID-19 experience has injected a “virus situational awareness” into the lifestyles of millions of people. Like touching a hot stove, the lessons will not soon abandoned or forgotten in the human psyche.

Sterling Hawkins
BrainTrust

As Seth Godin says: No niche is too small if it’s yours. This chain will have to adjust and innovate as the market changes, the pandemic ends and the consumer needs change … although that’s something all retailers should be doing, too.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

One thing I note — and I’m not sure if it falls under “irony” or “problem” — is that by opening physical stores, they are in a sense encouraging people to congregate … the very thing that the market for these goods is likely averse to.

I wish them well (which in this case, I guess, is a SHORT and prosperous existence).

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Braintrust
"Over time, the specific products will change, but the category of PPE and consumer safety will provide the logic for the assortment."

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