KANSAS CITY, MO. - The story of how Magnolia River Manufacturing Corp., a Greeley, Colo.-based maker of custom displays for perimeter grocery and other clients, came to provide safety shields for St. Louis retailer Schnucks to keep the coronavirus at bay is one of imagination, trust and decisive action in the face of adversity.

On March 19, Jim Emmett, Magnolia River’s CEO, was shopping at his local grocery store in Greeley. He was buying deli meat at the instore deli when it hit him.

“I noticed I was standing face-to-face with the deli person, and it did not feel comfortable,” Emmett said.

He didn’t think about it for long. Instead, Emmett drove right back to Magnolia River, did a quick drawing, threw a piece of plexiglass on his C&C routers and made a prototype. 

When people think of Magnolia River, they tend to think of beautiful, high-end wooden bakery cases and produce tables and bakery cases. But the company uses a fair amount of plexiglass in its produce bins, to keep produce from pushing up on front edge of tables. 

“We go through a lot of it and have it in stock, we’re familiar with working with it,” Emmett said. “It was super simple, no glue or anything else, and designed so it could ship flat,” he said.

That same day, Emmett took it back to the store, a Magnolia River customer, installed it and asked employees and customers what they thought. The response was positive, so Emmett took a picture and sent to Chris Kline, head of deli and bakery at Schnucks, another of his clients.

“Chris immediately picked up the phone, said ‘That looks awesome, let me get it in front of our leadership.’ Within hours, not days, they pulled trigger, said this will help, we will try anything to protect our customers and associates,” Emmett said.

Schnucks committed right away to a large quantity of the shields for its deli and meat departments, checkstands, pharmacy and customer service. Each department required its own design. After creating another prototype, Emmett would text and send photos to Klein, who would again respond immediately.

Starting on March 20, the very next day after Emmett had the idea standing in his local instore deli department, Magnolia River was running 24 hours a day turning out protective shields for Schnucks. By March 23, the first truckload of shields had arrived in St. Louis and were being installed in Schnucks stores throughout the metro area. Trucks continued to arrive almost daily for a few days, then continued until the final delivery on April 1. Thousands of shields in all were delivered.

“The coolest part was Chris working tightly with his leadership all the way to the top, to make this happen immediately. We also worked with Ryan Scurch, who handles purchasing. He was absolutely amazing. We’re very blessed to have great partners like Schnucks. It’s amazing how decisive their leadership was.”

Not that Emmett was surprised. Over the past couple of years, Magnolia River has done several custom projects for Schnucks instore bakeries. On those projects, “at every turn,” he said, “they’ve used the same metric: is this good for our customers and our associates. And if it is, they pull the trigger.”

A happy ending 
As for Schnucks, they’re more than pleased with the shields and how the process went from their end, said Paul Simon, senior communications specialist. 

“The shields are working out great,” said Paul Simon, Schnucks’ senior communications specialist. 

“We have them at all checklanes, pharmacies and open service departments. Since the initial installation, we’ve expanded them to ensure they’re even more protective. 

As an essential business we want to be able to continue serving our communities and at the same time protecting our customers and teammates.”
While it’s easier to practice social distancing in Schnucks’ aisles and other areas of the store, it can be more challenging at our checkout lanes and service counters, Simon said. The added level of protection provided by the shields delivers additional safety for the retailer’s teammates and customers. 

And the reception to the shields has been great, he added.

“Everyone is appreciative of the many efforts that we are making to protect customers and teammates to ensure that we are able to continue to serve our communities. Customer and teammate safety is always a top priority for Schnucks - not just during a pandemic.”

Despite the speed with which Magnolia River designed the shields, made them and shipped them, the company did not sacrifice quality. The shields are simple, but they’re designed to last.

“At the time, we knew that this pandemic was not going to be over in couple weeks — it didn’t make sense to do a totally temporary shield, then later come up with a permanent one,” Emmett said.

If the coronavirus, say, goes away in the summer, Schnucks can store them for future use — like if the pandemic comes back in the fall.

“These can easily be taken down, laid down flat, put away and they don’t go to waste,” Emmett said. 
“A big part of our company is ‘Don’t be wasteful, build things of quality, that stand the test of time.’ Everyone’s in the plastics business now, it seems. We’re in the long-term grocery beautiful fixture business.”

In addition to Schnucks, Magnolia River also made shields for Woodland, Calif.-based Nugget Markets, another Magnolia River client. Emmett reported a similarly smooth, decisive process with Nugget’s Jeff Albright. 

“We’re all good friends, just trying do whatever it takes to protect our people.”