What was your first pivot in response to COVID-19?
Our first pivot was to get our website back up and running. We had a website a few years ago that we had taken offline so we could spend more time and resources on our brick and mortar businesses. We were lucky as most of the heavy lifting was already done. We had a website template already created, understood how to create content, upload inventory and handle payments. The time-consuming part for us was photographing and uploading our inventory onto the website.
How long did it take you to adjust your business operations?
The website only took us a few weeks. As for our brick and mortar business operations, that is still something we are adjusting as new information comes out. Regulations, policies, and recommendations are getting revised daily, so we are constantly in adjustment mode. That has been a real challenge since it is difficult to stay up to date on information.
Before COVID-19, did you have online sales, and if so, how much of an increase have you seen since?
As mentioned, our website had been offline for about 2 years prior to COVID-19. Once we went live our online sales were better than projected but have since leveled off a bit. The online business seems to be inversely related to our store traffic. Currently, our store traffic is affected by COVID-19.
What has worked best for you in recent months and what business adjustment do you see staying with as a new way to conduct business as usual?
With people working and staying at home in recent months, we have increased our selection of cute, casual items – fun graphic tees, jean shorts, lounge, and activewear. We still have plenty of fun outfits for vacations, party dresses & fashion pieces but our wider selection of casual basics meets the needs of our customers during the time of quarantine and decreased travel and outings.
What advice do you have for fellow downtown business owners?
My biggest advice is to stay on top of what resources are available through the state, county, and city for businesses in need. Your local chamber of commerce or the SBA can be a great resource for this. The PPP funds and other grants have been a huge help in keeping our staff and making sure everyone still gets paid. We did not let anyone go during the shutdown.
How do you see change coming in boutique retail in the coming months, years and what opportunities are there?
The biggest change I see is that many retailers are going to go out of business. The retail environment is challenging enough for brick and mortar stores as more shopping dollars go online. COVID-19 will be the final straw for many retailers. The damage is not limited to small retailers as some very large retailers have already filed for bankruptcy.
This will create an opportunity for successful retailers that have enough cash to expand. Store closures will create some underserved areas as well as free up prime retail space. The nimble retailer will seize on that opportunity.