Tough Call: Unmasked

Tough Call Unmasked

A loyal, longtime customer refuses to wear a mask in your store. What would you do?

You’re right there with pretty much everyone you know in desperately wanting to never, ever again hear the words COVID-19 or pandemic. While it appears that much of the nightmare is behind us, we’re not there yet. As an LBM dealer whose company has enjoyed strong sales, and whose team stepped up to help out when some coworkers were quarantined, you’re ready to get back to normal. But it’s not up to you. Your state and county government mandate asks that everyone wear a face covering while inside your store.

Though no one likes it, the vast majority of your customers and employees accept the mask mandate and realize that the public health guidance is out of your hands. This is a relief, because no one on your team enjoys enforcing the mask rule. In fact, in almost every case where someone enters the store without a mask, it’s inadvertent, and they’re quick to apologize and run back to their truck to retrieve their mask. Then there’s Bob.

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Bob’s a good guy and a longtime, loyal customer, but he simply refuses to wear a mask in your store. It doesn’t matter who asks—whether it’s you, or one of your team members. Offering him a mask just seems to make it worse. He simply doesn’t care that he’s the only one in your store without a mask—and his refusal has created friction with other customers.

The first few times it happened, you pulled Bob aside and respectfully asked him to follow the rules and please mask up. His answer hasn’t changed. “Look, I know you’re required to post signs for people to wear masks in your store. But I’m just not going to do it. And I don’t think the governor is going to have the police arrest me. If you want my business, you’ll have to accept that I’m going to shop without a mask. If you can’t live with that, just tell me and I’m happy to take my business elsewhere.”

Several employees, including one who recently recovered from COVID-19, resent Bob’s refusal to respect the public health directive. “I’m not one to take away anyone’s freedoms, but this is not just about Bob. It’s about the health of your customers and your team. Rick, who’s worked here since the company started 25 years ago, just recovered from COVID and pneumonia. I don’t see him sticking around if we let Bob live by his own set of rules,” one employee said.

Plus, you just learned that your store just took a hit on the internet, when someone left a Google review about your store not enforcing the mask mandate.

Bob is a good, loyal customer who’s bought from you for years, and you don’t want to threaten that. However, his actions are alienating your team, and sending the wrong signal to other customers. What would you do?

Insist. Tell Bob that public health concerns override his views on masking. As long as it’s a mandate for everyone, that includes him. He’s not welcome in your store without a mask.

Special hours. Since Bob is such a good customer, work out a couple of times per week (outside regular business hours) where he can shop mask-free.

Live with it. Letting one good customer shop your store without a mask isn’t a public health crisis. Just accept it, and if the governor wants to arrest him, it’s out of your hands.

Deliver. Show Bob how important his business is by delivering all of his purchases to the jobsite of his choice. Agree on minimum order size to waive all fees. Win. Win.

What would you do?

Something else?
If you’d take a different plan of attack, email your suggested solution to If we publish your reply, we’ll send you an LBM Journal mug.

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