Clos­ings have re­shaped in­dus­try

New strate­gies may be­come per­ma­nent

Calgary Herald - - REOPENING CANADA - STEPHANIE BABYCH sbabych@post­media.com Twit­ter: @Baby­ch­stephanie

Many re­tail­ers in Calgary quickly piv­oted to on­line sales and curb­side pickup mod­els when their stores were forced to close due to the COVID-19 pan­demic.

But as they re­open as part of the eco­nomic re­launch, they’re find­ing some of the changes to re­tail shop­ping could be per­ma­nent.

“This forced busi­nesses to look at other ways of do­ing busi­ness and I think that’s re­ally, re­ally good, be­cause a lot of peo­ple don’t think about piv­ot­ing or mod­i­fy­ing how they do busi­ness,” said Jill Hawker, owner of The Apothe­cary in In­gle­wood. “But all of a sud­den it was, ‘Oh, well, we have this on­line model that’s to­tally work­ing. Let’s keep that when we open our doors again.’

“I think this can be seen as a pos­i­tive thing through all of this.”

The Apothe­cary found a new rhythm and fre­quent shop­pers through its on­line and curb­side-pickup model dur­ing quar­an­tine, and Hawker said it will be stick­ing around even though the store has re­opened. Be­cause of the suc­cess of the new model, Hawker didn’t have to lay off staff and will be look­ing to hire in the com­ing weeks.

“We had been plan­ning a de­liv­ery model any­way, but we sped it up by a few months and we are now able to reach peo­ple in com­mu­ni­ties that aren’t able to make it to In­gle­wood all the time,” Hawker said.

Makenzi Smith, gen­eral man­ager of The Livery Shop in In­gle­wood, said the de­liv­ery sys­tem they started dur­ing COVID -19 clo­sures will be put on pause un­til they sort out the re­open­ing of their store, with the re­hir­ing of staff and train­ing in safety pro­ce­dures.

Their curb­side-pickup pro­gram has been in­creas­ingly suc­cess­ful, so Smith said they will con­tinue of­fer­ing it to give cus­tomers as many op­tions as pos­si­ble so they feel safe while shop­ping.

“We’re try­ing to fig­ure out how to split our team up into be­ing a sales-fo­cused team in the brickand-mor­tar store, but also hav­ing a ful­fil­ment team that does all the back­ground work that hap­pens with de­liv­er­ies,” Smith said.

“This gave us the push that we needed and, as a team, we’ve re­ally fig­ured out how to be­come a ful­fil­ment warehouse cen­tre. We were putting out quite a lot of or­ders at the peak of ev­ery­thing hap­pen­ing. It’s still very com­pa­ra­ble to the sales we were get­ting in-store on a reg­u­lar ba­sis.”

On March 27, the prov­ince told non-es­sen­tial busi­nesses — which in­cluded many re­tail stores, hair sa­lons, bar­ber­shops and tat­too par­lours — to close. At the time, there were just over 500 con­firmed cases of the novel coro­n­avirus in Al­berta.

As of June 18, Al­berta was sit­ting at 486 ac­tive cases and 7,579 con­firmed cases of COVID -19, and re­tail busi­nesses have been given guid­ance from Al­berta Health as phys­i­cal stores re­open.

For Kevin Kent, owner of Kent of In­gle­wood, it was im­por­tant to have a manda­tory mask pol­icy in his stores to pro­tect the health of cus­tomers and staff — even though he has re­ceived some push­back from cus­tomers.

“If you don’t have a mask, we’ll sup­ply one when you come in, but it seems some peo­ple are against them for some rea­son,” he said.

Kent had a strong on­line pres­ence be­fore clo­sures, so the tran­si­tion to on­line-only wasn’t as chal­leng­ing as it was for some. How­ever, he used his ex­tra time to cre­ate tu­to­rial and ed­u­ca­tional videos for so­cial me­dia about the prod­ucts, shav­ing tech­niques and more.

“We ac­tu­ally have a whole bunch of new cus­tomers just by reach­ing out to them through cool con­tent on­line,” he said.

Jonathan Kane, owner of The Naked Leaf tea shop in Kens­ing­ton, said the en­cour­age­ment many Cal­gar­i­ans felt to buy lo­cal dur­ing quar­an­tine was a great boost for many lo­cal busi­nesses at a time when sales were down.

“I’m hop­ing peo­ple are see­ing the value in shop­ping lo­cal and how much in­de­pen­dent, small busi­ness brings to their com­mu­nity and to the city as a whole. I’m hop­ing that con­tin­ues into the fu­ture,” Kane said.

He in­tro­duced a curb­side-pickup model that was fairly suc­cess­ful in keep­ing the busi­ness run­ning while the store­front was closed.

Jen­nifer Le­blond, the owner of Steel­ing Home on 17th Av­enue, said the rise in lo­cal shop­pers has helped busi­nesses tremen­dously af­ter the loss of all tourists.

“Be­cause no one’s leav­ing on va­ca­tion, the lo­cals are here and they’re fix­ing their yards, re­or­ga­niz­ing their house and they have time to shop here. We’ve seen a dif­fer­ent group of peo­ple who are now shop­ping lo­cal,” Le­blond said.

Al­though new mod­els helped off­set the drop in sales, Kane is still con­cerned about what the cli­mate will look like for small busi­nesses five to six months from now af­ter many have been drain­ing their sav­ings to stay afloat dur­ing quar­an­tine.

“I think the land­scape is still chang­ing. I’m still be­ing care­ful. I love my busi­ness, we all love our busi­nesses, but we might have to con­sider if it’s worth it to go bank­rupt just to keep the doors open in a few months if sales don’t re­turn to nor­mal,” Kane said.

DARREN MAKOWICHUK

Jonathan Kane, owner of The Naked Leaf in Kens­ing­ton, saw suc­cess dur­ing quar­an­tine with curb­side pickup.

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