How CEO Corie Barry kept Best Buy afloat during the pandemic

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Sen. Amy Klobuchar is on Joe Biden’s shortlist, an attorney breaks a second Supreme Court record, and Best Buy CEO Corie Barry talks about leading through the pandemic. Have a glorious weekend. The Broadsheet will be off for Memorial Day in the U.S. on Monday—we’ll see you here on Tuesday. 

– Best Buy boss. For our Fortune 500 issue, our colleague Jen Wieczner talked to Corie Barry, CEO of electronics retail giant Best Buy (No. 74 on the list). This is Barry’s first full year on the job—and what a time to start!

She talked Jen about her decision to close all of Best Buy’s 1,000 U.S. stores on March 22, transitioning to delivery and curbside pickup—despite the fact that, as an essential service, the locations could have remained open. Barry said:

“It was becoming more and more evident that our employees were very concerned for their own safety. And this was met by this really high demand window, where customers really needed what we sold. We put all that in a blender. We moved to the curbside model in literally a matter of 48 hours. And we stopped going into people’s homes to install and do repairs. We just could not look our employees, our customers in the eye and say that that was a safe experience.”

Certainly not an easy call—though there were even more difficult moments to come:

“The single hardest decision was furloughing 51,000 employees. That is just not something that you would ever contemplate or write the manual for,” said Barry. “When we moved to the curbside model on March 22, we said we were going to continue to pay employees whether or not they were necessary in the new model, because obviously this requires just a much more skeleton crew of employees. We did that for four weeks. That’s [because] it would bridge people to when the federal stimulus program kicked in, and in many cases, that program actually would compensate them more highly than we might.”

Beginning this month, Best Buy started trying to create a new normal, reopening some stores using a concierge model, where shoppers make an appointment, then come into the store for a masked and socially-distanced shopping experience with the help of an associate.

The company reported Q1 results yesterday, and it seems that Barry’s leadership is paying off for the company’s bottom line. As Fortune’s Phil Wabha reports, the retailer’s online sales—which include curbside pickup—are up 155{4bae5313c1ffa697ce99995897f7847f1ebf3bca0fb7c37396bb602eb24323d3}. Best Buy managed to hold onto about 81{4bae5313c1ffa697ce99995897f7847f1ebf3bca0fb7c37396bb602eb24323d3} of its sales volume during the last six weeks of the quarter, something one Wall Street analyst called “amazing.” (For comparison, sales at U.S. electronics stores overall fell 61{4bae5313c1ffa697ce99995897f7847f1ebf3bca0fb7c37396bb602eb24323d3} in April).

While I doubt Barry would have picked this as her ideal first year on the job, it’s clear she’s stepped up to the challenge. As she told Jen: “Never has our purpose been more real.”

Read the full Q+A here.

Kristen Bellstrom
[email protected]

Today’s Broadsheet was curated by Emma Hinchliffe

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