My Passionate Retailer Column - inStore Magazine - Summer 2021

Challenges Motivate Us to the Next Level

I was actual feeling pretty good about how well I was able to transform my women’s clothing and accessory business during the COVID-19 pandemic. With my doors closed to walk-in shoppers for most all of the past 16 months, my weekly Facebook Live shopping shows, personalized front porch shopping events, outdoor markets and curbside pick-ups were really starting to show results. Not only was my new format fun and safe, I was also able to reduce costs, turn new product around quickly, and steadily grow my sales month after month. Although my clothing sales remained dismal, in June, my sales of gifts, summer sandals and accessories were not far off from my overall store sales in 2019. I had much to be proud of and I certainly was.

I was equally impressed by how well other businesses were able to rework their business models to handle either unexpected sudden growth or pivot to rebuild lost sales. Companies everywhere began moving their business on-line, setting up virtual and/or in-store appointments, offering curbside pick-ups, home delivery, contactless payments, and subscription box services. Yes, out of desperation came great innovation.

I truly believed that I’d continue operating this way throughout the summer, but my plan came to a crashing halt, in late June, when governments across the country started announcing that many of the restrictions, previously imposed on shopping and other activities, would be lifted almost immediately.

I knew the day was coming, when things would begin re-opening, but for some reason I was caught off guard, even shocked, by the speed and magnitude of the rules being relaxed.

Almost overnight, it seemed that what people needed, wanted, and expected had changed.

Many shoppers expected stores to be fully stocked, staffed and ready to go the moment rules were eased. Others, being more cautious, and/or enjoying the new “alternatives” to in-store shopping, expected retailers to continue makings these options available.

For several days, I was totally overwhelmed by what was unfolding. The number of people watching and ordering from my shopping show started to drop off and, long line-ups of shoppers formed outside larger stores, all eager to go inside and spend money.

I bitterly accepted that, despite all the uncertainties, I had to pivot again.  

I also needed to remind myself that, by facing the new challenges reopening and recovery, I would learn, grow, become stronger and wiser.

In one afternoon, a new plan was devised. We would: reopen the store to walk-in shoppers the first week in July, continue doing weekly shopping shows but with fewer products, have online customers pick-up their purchases in-store when the store was open; offer curbside pick-ups only on days when the store was closed and, in lieu of large outdoor markets, host small events on our front porch.

What first seemed like the impossible became the possible.

In a matter of days, our store’s “studio-warehouse” look was converted back to being a beautiful boutique. Our studio and on-line order processing areas were made mobile with new fixturing. And, by the time this article is published, we will have a screen installed in the store so customers can watch the latest weekly episode of the “Shop with Diane” show. 

Over the summer, we will get a better understanding about who our customers are, what they are shopping for, and how their shopping behaviours have changed. This will be valuable information as we begin making our plans for the fall and winter. Yes, plans that will likely need a revision or two.

There is no question in my mind that if we remain committed, flexible, creative, engaged, and work together, we will be able to move our businesses forward. I sure won’t be easy but the opportunity for us to learn, grow become wiser hasn’t been greater.

Stay strong, stay well and stay in touch.

Diane Petryna

P.S. Let me personally invite you to join the Passionate Retailer Facebook page. It is designed for independent retailers and industry partners who are interested in coming together, supporting one another, and learning from one another during these difficult times.  That’s @passionateretailer on Facebook.

 

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