Editor’s note: Many businesses across the country have gone out of business during the pandemic. Some local businesses have tried new ways of selling during this time. Here are just three of them.
By Wendy Nugent, Harvey County Now
NEWTON—Owner of Main Street Company and Kitchen Corner in Newton, Tina Ostrander, is dedicated to her customers. In fact, she’s so willing to go to any length to help them, she assisted one Newton resident with purchasing a cardigan online after 11 p.m. one recent weeknight.
“I get Facebook messages and emails at all hours,” Ostrander said. “That’s part of doing business. That’s part of staying alive right now. We strive to have the best service we can.”
Customer service is one component Ostrander has concentrated on during the pandemic, as well as other times. Several Newton businesses have had to change some things these past few months in order to stay afloat.
One of the things Ostrander did was set up a website in March in two and a half days before the shutdown.
“At that point, we knew it was coming,” she said. “To be on the safe side, I think I thought I better throw together this website for customers who aren’t comfortable coming in the store.”
The store also did live Facebook sales, which helped carry them through, and they’re still doing that. She said that in May, she added a software system whereby people wanting to purchase items presented could comment “sold” with the number of the item they wanted followed by the size, if it called for that.
She believes the shutdown started at the end of March and stopped around May 4.
“It ended up being six weeks,” she said, adding the biggest thing they did was getting the website up and running so people could still shop.
“That helps reach a bigger demographic,” she said.
The “Comments Sold” software they got also was a big help, and now they go live Tuesdays and Thursdays on their Facebook page. They also try to do something on their Facebook page on Sundays, which could be a video or a “shop the post” notice.
All of that has been helping.
The store also is helping the community by having a Keep Kids Cozy Coat Drive, which was through Halloween, but they’ll still take donations. Ostrander said they started it because the woman with the Random Acts of Kindness in Newton Facebook page went into the store and told Ostrander she wanted to partner with her and gave her some money to use for a cause. At first, Ostrander wasn’t sure what to do, but then one morning, her son said he was cold and he wanted his coat.
“It just hit me that morning,” Ostrander said. “I think it was just how he was sitting there,” she added, demonstrating how he had his arms wrapped around himself.
She thought there are kids who don’t have coats, and she started taking donations.
“Keeping the community going, helping each other out whatever way we can,” she said.
Bella Veil Bridal Boutique said “I do” to keeping in business by doing a few things to help and get customers. They reopened after the shutdown around May 2 or 3, said owner Ericia Stevens.
“We have been just so busy since then,” she said, adding that right after they reopened, brides came in to make appointments—they didn’t just go in to browse.
“May and June, they were shopping to buy,” she said, “They weren’t shopping to shop.”
Not all bridal dresses are made in America, Stevens said, and people thought there would be extra delays in getting their dresses because of the pandemic.
COVID-19 already was in China last year, and Stevens said they saw the effects of that.
“A couple of the manufacturers were shut down,” she said.
Brides were worried it would take several more months to get their dresses, and it usually takes three to six months to receive their ordered dresses, depending on the designer.
“In May and June, those girls were coming in and ready to purchase then and there,” Stevens said, adding they had more off-the-rack sales those two months.
Usually, dresses are ordered to fit the person. The shop takes measurements, and then they order the size that will fit. Then alterations are done.
Since reopening, they’ve exceeded their goals, and they’re set to hit their goal at the end of the year, Stevens said.
Even though the store shut down when everything else did, Stevens still worked in the store.
“I also really invested in some new training for my staff, and I also invested in a new computer system that allows us to communicate with brides,” Stevens said, adding with it, brides can sign up and then the shop can talk to them on a texting basis.
They ask brides what they’re looking for in a gown and what size they wear, things like that, before they go into the shop. They also tell them about how well they sanitize the shop, like sanitizing a dress before a future bride tries one on. They also wear masks and sanitize couches and anything with which people come into contact.
They also shut down their snack bar for clients.
“Our saving grace in this whole thing—we only have two fitting rooms,” Stevens said.
They’re usually at 15 people at their peak in the store anyway with two fitting rooms, and there was a time only 15 people were allowed to gather in one place indoors. Brides are allowed to have four to six guests.
They also do Sunday appointments for larger parties, and the shop only is open right now by appointment. Stephens said most bridal shops only allow one or two guests. That helped set them apart from other bridal shops.
The pandemic cancelled bridal expos, so Stephens said she needed another way to get in front of brides, and that’s what her new technology company she’s using does.
“It replaced the two bridal expos we did not get to participate in,” Stephens said. “We definitely knew it was temporary.”
She said they’ll keep the online computer system through 2020.
To make an appointment, the best way is to contact the store by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on social media. Their website is bellaveilbridal.com.
Another local store, Charlotte’s Sew Natural, the quilting shop on Main Street, got busier after the pandemic struck. Maybe that was part efforts the store did; maybe that was because people needed cloth for masks; maybe it was because people needed something to do at home or a combination of all that. Whatever it was, it worked.
“We never stopped doing business,” owner Charlotte Wolfe said. “So we closed the doors, and we just did pickup or we mailed it and did some local delivery for people. We knew that people were just frantically making masks, so we tried to find all the merchandise appropriate stuff for masks, so we could sell at a reduced prices and donated.”
They also started using social media a lot more and Facebook live sales, which were every Friday, and they also did some pop-up selling on social media, as well as “unboxing,” where they showed the social media audience what fabric or other items had arrived at the store.
“We stayed real accessible even though the store was closed to walk-in traffic, and then it’s been really good for business now because people who started masks who weren’t sewing before kept sewing,” Wolfe said, adding there’s revived and new customers, as well as their die-hard customers.
“It was a safe activity,” Wolfe said about quilting and sewing during the lockdown. “It was very useful. It was necessary.”