Area boutiques pivot to virtual sales
You’ve probably seen the sign, “Remember all the local small businesses that you’ve asked for years and years to donate and sponsor your sports clubs, school events, organizations, etc.” They’re calling in a favor. Answer the call.”
A survey from Tech.co found that 80% of small business owners say COVID-19 has hurt their business.
Many consumers have changed shopping habits. Delivery and curbside pickup options have become increasingly prevalent in all sectors. But local businesses still rely on local support.
When nonessential businesses were shut down early on in the pandemic, many suffered. Some closed their doors permanently. Recently, owners of four area boutiques spoke with B Magazine about how they weathered the storm, shifting efforts and pivoting to virtual sales to stay in business.
High Street Station
Sisters Lynette Strange and Lisa Walker, owners of High Street Station, are celebrating 17 years in business at their original boutique in Jackson. They also have a second location in Cape Girardeau at the Indie House.
“We feel so lucky that if we have to be in a pandemic, that we’re in Jackson,” Walker said. “Our community is so tight knit, supportive and loyal.”
High Street Station shut down for about six weeks starting at the end of March, but they were determined to keep busy organizing and cleaning the store.
They acknowledged the need for more of a social media presence moving into the future. However, during cleaning, Strange uncovered items she called the “Deal of the Day” and posted pictures of the items on Facebook.
“All of the sudden, we had followers,” she said. “It just grew and pretty soon we were putting together gift baskets, too.”
High Street also offered delivery and curbside pick up and are very grateful for customers who would call to buy gift certificates to use later. Private shopping appointments were also a successful option.
“I would be here at 7 a.m. with people, at 9 p.m. with people. It didn’t matter. I would say, ‘Just tell me what works for you,’” Strange said.
Currently, Strange’s daughter is working on High Street’s website to offer an online store. And since reopening their retail location around Mother’s Day, business has been steady.
“I don’t want to sound super cheesy, but honestly and truly, we’ve been here 17 years,” Walker said. “Our customers are our family and friends, and they care about us and we care about them.”
D Duncan Floristry & Boutique
D Duncan Floristry & Boutique in Chaffee opened in January, just before the pandemic struck. Owner Dustin Duncan said the timing allowed them to get creative on sales techniques.
“I planned to be involved with social media but not to the extent I have been. I had to learn quickly in a new business that I am going to have to be present and involved through going live on social media,” Duncan said. “Even if they (the videos) are uncomfortable at times, I’ve learned to just be me.”
Having a business in Chaffee is overall “very serendipitous” for Duncan. It’s where he grew up, never thinking he would own a business in his hometown. D Duncan Floristry & Boutique is located four doors down from where his grandfather started his entrepreneurial journey as the owner of Duncan Donuts/Chaffee Bakery.
Building relationships is the most important part of shopping local to Duncan. He believes boutiques offer unique character and enhance the local community.
“When we support local, it’s supporting not only the business owner but the community,” he said.
The most important lesson Duncan said they learned trying to run a business during a pandemic was to stay positive.
“We are so grateful that this community and surrounding communities will support us during tough times,” he said.
Blackbird Monogram & Gift
Nikki Burton, owner of Blackbird Monogram & Gift, has been open since February 2019. Shortly after celebrating the store’s one-year anniversary, they had to shut down due to COVID.
During shutdown they did a lot of online sales, and Burton met customers at the store who were picking up paint for their quarantine painting projects.
“The paint line by Annie Sloan really carried us through,” she said. “A lot of people were working on projects at home.”
Burton estimates she helped at least 50 customers with painting projects, from dressers to desks, as people got around to projects they wanted to do.
Realizing she needed to get Blackbird’s website up to speed, Burton’s husband has taken on that task. She called it a “huge undertaking.” The pandemic also meant stepping up her social media usage, using live video to show products to customers.
Local delivery, curbside pickup and shipping are options Burton is likely to keep once things are back to normal.
“I think especially small business owners, we’ve all had to pivot,” she said.
Blackbird reopened in May to an extremely successful June and July, which are normally slower months for retail. She said it’s hard to predict the sales trends, but she’s learned to have patience and not set so many expectations every day.
“I just kind of come in every day with, ‘OK, if we’re busy, fantastic. If we’re not, that’s OK there’s always tomorrow,’” Burton said.
Mollie Young, owner of Mollie’s in Cape Girardeau, had concerns like many other business owners when retail shopping was shut down. After being in business for four years, in March she locked the door on Mollie’s for three months.
“Thankfully, my dad Dave Ramsey’d me growing up so I had a cushion,” she said, referencing the Nashville-based money expert. “I knew we were going to be good for awhile.”
She decided to use the shutdown time to totally transform the store. Remembering that the store’s ceiling could be raised higher, they went to work.
“Financially, it didn’t really make sense to do it when we had no money coming in, but also, we may never have an opportunity like this again,” she said.
Through Facebook and Instagram, followers were kept up to date on the remodeling and construction process, and in hindsight, Young believes telling and showing that story was one thing that helped get customers back into the store once Mollie’s reopened.
July ended up being one of the best months Mollie’s has ever had — almost three times what they normally do.
In December 2019, Young split her business into bespoke stationery under the name Mollie Paperie and the boutique as Mollie’s. As part of that decision, they launched a new website. Looking back, Young calls that timing “a God thing.”
“Thank the Lord I had that all set up because I didn’t have to go back and try to create a website in a month,” she said.
Having the website ready and offering curbside and free delivery for local customers helped build her business back up.
During shutdown, Mollie’s offered quarantine care packages, which were a hit with her customers, helping boost sales in the months they were closed.
On a recent trip to Charlestown, S.C., Young saw big boutiques and stores that were closed permanently. She added, “It just put it in so much perspective for me. I’m just grateful for, honestly, a supportive community.”
Young said the pandemic has taught her to “be appreciative for what you have and for everything that you’ve been given. And just to always try and find the good.”
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