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  • Monika Kupczak Ainslie

Staying in business during COVID-19 - a guide for store owners

My family and I returned from Mexico on March 6th. We left on vacation on February 26, before any travel restrictions and other things were happening. We went to celebrate the sale of my old business, House of Koopslie. It was a time for fun and reconnecting as a family. It was a beautiful vacation. Who knew everything would change so quickly in the world?





SELF-ISOLATION - DAY 12 AND COUNTING I’ve now been cooped up at home for the last 12 days in self-isolation. I felt very sick when we returned home and then my kids and husband also got sick a few days later, so we all went under self-isolation while we tried to get through to health authorities to see if we should get tested for COVID-19. A few days and many hours of pressing re-dial, we got through. They thought that as we’ve been travelling and have symptoms, we in fact should get tested, so a few days later we went for testing. I won’t get into the details of how surreal that experience was at this time, but I will tell you that waiting for our results was scary. They told us 2-4 days to get the results and we knew that people who get phone calls later are most likely fine. They were prioritizing calling people who have COVID-19, so we were hoping to hear back in 4 days. 36 hours after the test we got a phone call. Answering that phone was terrifying. When the woman on the other end of the line told me one by one that we were all in the clear, I almost cried. A NEW PERSPECTIVE + NEW SHOPPING HABITS


Being at home for the last 12 days, watching everything unfold, has given me a perspective of the new world we will be living in for the next little while. It’s also given me plenty of time to do online shopping! I tell you this because I want you to know that there are people out there who are shopping! (A lot!) Not everyone is able to do so, but as businesses, if we can support those customers, we should.

I’ve bought art supplies (so many art supplies!), potting soil for my neglected houseplants, and home improvement items (paint, light bulbs, and the like). As we’re planning on spending more time at home, I’ve also been looking at home improvement projects.  For starters, I am planning on painting our bathroom and master bedroom (I’ve had swatches painted on the wall for months!), buying more house plants to make the home more natural and adding some new paintings, a rug, and some home decor. Our basement is also finally getting cleaned out so we can set up a temporary work space for my husband and more space for the kids to play.

I will be buying more lounge wear for me and my family as we want to be comfortable, but still stylish while in self-isolation (can you blame us?!). I am also looking at trying some new beauty care products, as I’m finding I have more time for facials, hair masks and skin care in general.  I WANT TO SUPPORT LOCAL


As I've been shopping for these items, I struggled to buy many of them from local retailers. I called several stores to see how I can get this or that and some were ready and able to help, but others had no way to help me. It wasn't just a matter of ordering products. I needed information and help. I needed customer service. For example, I called one local store that I wanted to support and asked them which plants they would recommend, but they told me they can't really help me over the phone. They asked me to look up plants online and get back to them with the specifics of what I wanted. They don't have a website, so I suggested they run a Facebook live to show what's in store. They said they would speak to their internet person about that. This scared me. I want this business to stay in business! That interaction inspired me to create a list of actionable items that could help keep retail business afloat as we all navigate this new, uncertain COVID-19 world.


ONLINE IS GOING TO BE KEY


You may be doing this already but if not, definitely start thinking about connecting with your consumers online. After all, many people are home, whether in self-isolation or working remotely. More people will likely be home for the next several weeks or even months, especially with schools being closed down. Your best bet for reaching your customers is online, especially right now when we all are craving human connection more than ever before. Reach them on Facebook, Instagram, or whatever social platform your target audience lives on. Customers will be looking for products online. Consider running Google Ads. Go to them instead of waiting for them to come to you.


STAY IN TOUCH


Write a newsletter - Keep it light and relevant to what your customers care about. Share online specials to help move some inventory. Talk about how you’re protecting your store from COVID-19 (increased in-store sanitation, ensuring ill staff stay home, etc.). Announce upcoming virtual events (a Facebook Live for example or a virtual shopping hour).


Write a blog post - Connect with your customers in a genuine way. Help them get to know you so they will care deeply about your business, now and after the pandemic ends (which it will!). Introduce your staff. Talk about something your customers need or want. Address an issue your customers might be having and how you are going to fix it (i.e. what the best gardening soil is for root bound houseplants or the must-have pieces to lounge in style – both blogs I’d love to read!).


Go Live - Facebook and Instagram both offer an option to go live, which can give your business some much needed online exposure. It’s also a great piece of video content to share and re-share afterwards, increasing your reach even further.  Think about your customers here. What are they wondering? You can even ask them in advance and then address those questions. You can also go live to tell your customers your story, where you are at with COVID-19, introduce your staff, or show them around the store. By being active and in front of people’s minds, you’ll allow them to feel connected to you, your story and your people.


Instagram Stories - People love Stories on Instagram. I get way more people looking at my stories than my Instagram posts, so be creative with your stories. Make them look pretty and interesting by using GIFs or creating beautiful stories using free design tools like Canva.


FAQ - If you notice you’re getting a lot of the same questions, create a Frequently Asked Questions document that you can post on your social media channels, on your website and even in store and direct customers to the FAQs.


MIX THINGS UP IN STORE


If your store is still open, here are a few quick things you can also do in-store, while also adhering to social distancing:


Allow customers to shop via text or video call - If you have enough staff to make this feasible, let your customers shop via text or even via a video app (WhatsApp or FaceTime work great). If it goes well, this may be something you can implement long term.


Offer free shipping/delivery - This will let customers know that you want and encourage them to shop with you even if they can’t physically come in. It will also show that you’re willing to take on the cost of shipping in return for their continued support.


Do contact free pick-up – Just like DoorDash is offering contact free food delivery, consider letting people pick up from your store without having to enter the store. Instead have a staff member meet them in their car to drop off their order, paid for in advance of course.


Gift cards - Offer gift cards, both digital ones and in-store, so you can get a bit of a cash injection into your business. Offer to email or mail gift cards to people who can’t make it into the store.


Deliveries - If you can offer free local delivery do it. Set 1 or 2 days (or more if you can!)  a week that are delivery days. Let your customers know the cut off via email, social media posts, and your website so they can get their orders in on time.

By thinking of ways to make everything easier for your customers, they will not doubt do their best to support you!


SEE THE CHALLENGE AS AN OPPORTUNITY


Personally, I try to look at stressful situations is as opportunities that make me look at things from a new angle. More often than not, something new and different comes out of this thinking. If you can’t think of anything, here’s a problem I've been trying to solve - I’ve been thinking about how to thank my parents who have gone above and beyond to help us. They’ve gone grocery shopping, picked up our kids’ school items and have helped us in every single way possible (I am so lucky!) Be a business that helps me thank them! Come up with something new. A lot of people out there are getting a lot of help and might be looking for ways to show their gratitude. What if you help them to that? SUPPORT CANADIAN SUPPLIERS & WHOLESALERS If you are able, support your local and Canadian suppliers as much as possible. I know they will go above and beyond for their retailers. Help them stay in business, if you can.


NEED SOME HELP?


If you need any help coming up with a strategy for your business, I am in your corner and here to help. Feel free to reach out. If you enjoyed this post, feel free to share with your network. Sending virtual hugs! Monika



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