Closings have reshaped industry
New strategies may become permanent
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.
Jonathan Kane, owner of The Naked Leaf in Kensington, saw success during quarantine with curbside pickup.