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Local businesses adapt to pandemic with online innovation

Last Updated Jun 1, 2020 at 7:45 pm PDT

(iStock Photo)

Vancouver businesses are finding new, innovative ways to connect with customers during the pandemic

Many owners of these businesses believe that many of the changes are here to stay

Gift cards, online stores, curbside pick up are some changes businesses implemented

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Some Vancouver businesses that were forced to close locations during COVID-19 are staying open by shifting their operations online or innovating other ways to connect with customers. Bird on a Wire Creations, Cartems Donuts, Kaboodles Toy Stores, and Turnabout clothing all evolved in the face of disaster.

“It’s always true of anything that’s difficult,” says Lee Richmond, owner of Kaboodles. “There’s always some really good learning that goes on.”

“I don’t know if we’ll be doing things the same thing two weeks from now. You just have to be very flexible and fluid,” she adds.

It was necessary to rapidly adapt to the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic, but owners of these businesses believe that many of the changes are here to stay.

“We consider it another store,” says Joy Mauro, owner of Turnabout—a luxury clothing resale company with eight locations—of her new online presence. “And we have goals for it.”

However, the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic were difficult for Vancouver business owners.

“I ended up closing both my stores,” says Kate Nagel, who created of Bird on a Wire, an enterprise that supports artists by selling local artwork within 100 miles of Vancouver. “I had to lay off six of my eight staff.”

Jordan Cash, the owner of Cartems donuts, says that after the pastry shop shuttered its locations in March, they experienced many months with no sales. Despite not making any money, their landlord was still demanding rent.

“What we had to do was shift everything to online,” says Cash, as the COVID-19 pandemic made it increasingly dangerous to keep locations open.

Cartems kept one location open downtown, created an open garage door window-style setup, and designed an online order and pick up system. The owner of the doughnut shop put in all the required physical distancing protocols and added contactless payment.

He also developed gift cards for delivery to generate some revenue in the early days of the coronavirus shutdown.

Nagel kept two staff members, one to start building artist inventory on the website using photos and social media, and the other to be in charge of online sales and curbside pickup. She also began to offer free delivery after investing in a commercial delivery license and some signage for her car.

“Every day, I wake up. It’s like Groundhog Day. What new things do I need to adjust to today?” says Nagel.

Mauro knew that they couldn’t keep the doors open to Turnabout, but she kept all the employees on the payroll who wanted to keep working together and they began developing an online brand.

“I felt a tremendous responsibility for my clients’ stock. They need their money, they need me to sell things for them,” says Mauro. “So, we were building our online [presence] to try and promote their products and be able to surprise them with checks and be able to give them their money when we opened.”

Mauro adds that Turnabout was always so busy in the physical locations that they had never previously bothered to put more than a few luxury items online.

“We didn’t have the time to get it set up and working properly.” The silver lining of the pandemic was that they now could now build their online business.

“We’ve gone crazy online, we’re doing extremely well,” says Mauro.

Owner Lee Richmond says it took about a week for Kaboodles Toy Store to get their business inventory onto Shopify.

“The demand was for puzzles—kind of a thing right now,” says Richmond. “In April, in two or three weeks, we sold about 900 puzzles.”

“People seem to be quite happy with the curbside pickup,” adds Richmond.

Cash believes that as business owners innovate and realize that changes such as delivery or contactless pickup are easier than thought, companies such as Uber Eats and Skip the Dishes may not fare as well in the future.

“That part is going to shift a little bit because the margins that they take are just too high,” says Cash. “I think you’re going to see some other players come in and take some market share from them.”