Lowe's, which just joined the growing parade of retailers making masks mandatory for customers, is looking for new ways to soothe America's other problems. The DIY chain says it is doubling its small-business grant program to $55 million.
And at select stores in North Carolina and Georgia, it is hosting drive-in movie benefits to raise money for local small businesses owned by women and minorities. The Mooresville, North Carolina-based chain says it will offer a two-to-one match, up to $50,000, for any donations.
The company cites research that 7.5 million small businesses around the U.S. may be at risk of closing permanently. It's increasing grants to minority-owned companies from $25 million to $30 million, and adding $25 million for rural and hard-hit communities.
Lowe's attempt at a warm embrace of small towns and small business come at a time when it and other retailers are under pressure, with store employees increasingly the target of an increasingly vocal mask-hating minority.
To take the pressure off their workers, many retailers are issuing national policies, bypassing often confusing guidance from state and local governments. Walmart, Best Buy, Kroger, Kohls, CVS, Publix and Target released mask requirements this week.
"It's great that stores like Walmart and Lowe's are doing this," Stephanie Cegielski, vice president of the International Council of Shopping Centers, tells Marketing Daily. "We're also happy to see more governors making masks mandatory, which levels the playing field with all retailers following the same rules."
The National Retail Federation has gone even further, calling on all retailers to issue a national policy. "The health and safety of associates and customers is retailers' number one priority and wearing a face covering or mask is scientifically proven to reduce the spread of COVID-19," it says in its plea to retailers. "NRF applauds the leadership of companies like Walmart, Starbucks, Best Buy, BJ's Wholesale Club, Apple, Qurate Retail Group, Costco and others that have implemented nationwide mask mandates."
Such mandates would protect consumers and store employees as well. “Workers serving customers should not have to make a critical decision as to whether they should risk exposure to infection or lose their jobs because a minority of people refuse to wear masks in order to help stop the spread of the deadly coronavirus," the NRF goes on to say. "Shopping in a store is a privilege, not a right. If a customer refuses to adhere to store policies, they are putting employees and other customers at undue risk."
Ultimately, Cegielski says mandatory mask rules will benefit stores, and that consumers will appreciate the protection of masks. "It's a way to say, 'If I lose you as a customer, I'm sorry, but this is for the greater good. We're putting the health and safety of our customers and our employees before profits.'"