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How Schnuck Markets Harnessed Robots to Take Cleanliness to the Next Level

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Since the start of the pandemic, cleanliness has become more important than ever. This is a particularly important challenge for grocery retailers like Schnuck Markets, which exist in a space where food-based messes and spills are a regular part of doing business.

“When you think about it, you’ve got a 60,000-square-foot kitchen floor,” said Kim Anderson, Senior Director of Store Operations Support at Schnuck Markets in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “Things get dropped and they break. Then you’ve got the foot traffic that you have because you’re a retailer, with the related tracking through the store. Between just normal foot traffic and then spills and cleanups, stores can get really yucky really fast.”

For years, Schnucks kept up with the pace of spills through third-party cleaning services, but the state of the pre-COVID job market meant that these firms were having trouble hiring new employees — which meant they were facing challenges in meeting Schnuck’s needs. The retailer has been exploring robotic scrubber technology, which culminated in a partnership with Brain Corp that began in January 2019. The recent implementation of the solution provider’s Tennant T380AMR robotic scrubbers will hit more than half of Schnuck’s 112 locations by the end of 2020.

Easy Programming Takes Pressure Off Busy Associates

The robots do the bulk of their cleaning at night, when they can safely roam the aisles without getting in the way of shoppers. Associates set their paths by having the machines scan a QR code, which can be accomplished with a couple clicks of a button, then manually driving it through the route it’s supposed to follow. Then the QR code is scanned once again to complete the programming, which saves the path and sets up the machine to handle the actual cleaning process autonomously.

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“The people that we actually having at nighttime stocking are actually taking the robot and setting it on cleaning duty while they’re doing other tasks,” said Anderson. “We really love it because it’s so easy. Sometimes when you hear ‘robot’ that’s a frightening term for a lot of people, but this UI is very, very user friendly.”

Interfacing with associates is particularly important for keeping up with supply chain and sanitization pressures that Schnuck has been facing as an essential retailer during COVID. Letting robots take care of the floor means human workers have more time to spend ensuring that displays are full and other surfaces are thoroughly wiped down.

“Now our teammates can really focus on things that impact the customer directly,” said Anderson. “Being clean is important for the customer too, but now that the floor is getting done automatically our teammates can focus on making sure that the shelves are stocked and other areas are clean and ready to go for the next day when the customers arrive.”

Reporting Features Keep Every Store Running Smoothly

Another key feature of the robots is their reporting capabilities. Executives can view performance metrics from the machines through a single interface, to help them understand where, when and how they’re being used across the operation. In particular, this data lets Anderson see how often the robots are being run in autonomous mode versus ridden manually — which is a fun but unfortunately inefficient use of their capabilities.

“I’m able to see that in the reporting, and we’re able to call the stores and coach them or find out if something’s going on with the robot and follow up as needed with that,” said Anderson. “The reporting is a key piece to this.”

BrainOS has worked closely with Schnuck since the start of their partnership to help the retailer get the robots running the way they want. Between their cleaning and reporting capabilities, this has given Schnuck complete oversight over how its stores are cleaned and prepared overnight, which is an important consideration during the pandemic.

“We’re able to get our floors clean to the level that we want with the robot by touching the button and then letting it go scrub,” said Anderson. “It’s super exciting for us because we’re in control of the floor care, and do not have to go out and hire a bunch of people to come in and do it.”

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