Convincing more people to enter your place of business is the key for many entrepreneurs currently trying to survive the financial implications of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Convincing fewer people to enter, however, has been a surprising key to success for the Timeless Moments dress shop in downtown Sydney.
“I think it was something that I was really nervous about and when people were originally booking they wanted to bring five or six,” said store owner Brittany Woodworth.
“We told them they could only bring two with them. At the time of booking, sometimes people were a bit disappointed or hesitant but once they were shopping everyone was finding it better because you don’t have as many opinions, it is more intimate and you are not as overwhelmed. It’s actually been working out better for everyone.”
The concept has been so successful that the dress shop is now actively searching for a new employee to accommodate the popularity of the new shopping experience. It’s a stark contrast to that dire day on March 19 when Woodworth reluctantly decided to close the storefront and limit business to curbside pickup only. The shop survived for three months under that concept but the business has been booming since the storefront re-opened.
“I had a lot of sleepless nights. It was not fun. Those are some of our busiest months in the store. People were really great. I still had no contact pickups at the store because we still had dresses arriving that people had ordered. We had a lot of brides actually go through with their wedding this year once some of the restrictions were lifted. It was a weird way of doing business but even when we were closed, we still found a way to make it work.”
Business as ‘unusual’ is how Michelle Wilson, executive director of the Sydney Downtown Development Association, described the current state of the downtown shopping sector where many entrepreneurs have adapted to the new rules and regulations necessitated by the pandemic.
That means hand sanitizer, distancing, masks and other measures for those that have stayed opened or are now planning to re-open.
Innovative ideas and adaptations that have also surfaced for some businesses have even spurred a renewed interest in the downtown sector. Patios, for example, are more prevalent in the downtown sector in recent weeks.
“Nagy (Abdou) from 7 By 7 restaurant has had great success since he put his patio out,” Wilson said. “He’s recently expanded his menu, added brunch, is open longer hours. So for them, it’s quite a story of going from the desperation everyone was kind of in, to a real success story.”
Wilson said downtown mainstay businesses such as the Cape Breton Curiosity Shop and the Boysenberry Boutique Cafe storefront will soon be re-opening and there have been no reports of businesses planning to stay closed because of the pandemic.
Across the country, the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses reported in August that small businesses were struggling with sales and that downtown cores were hit particularly hard.
Among businesses in large urban centres, 22 per cent reported making normal sales for that time of year (August), compared to 37 per cent of businesses in rural areas.
The CFIB dashboard as of Sept. 2 showed that 64 per cent of Canadian small businesses had fully opened, 41 per cent are fully staffed and 28 per cent reported normal sales.
The same survey showed that 64 per cent of Nova Scotia businesses have fully opened, 38 per cent are at normal staffing levels and just 25 per cent are reporting normal or better revenues.
In downtown Sydney, Wilson said potential business owners were still calling to ask how they could open an operation, even at the height of the pandemic.
“Really, what I’m hearing so far is generally positive,” she said. “Not everyone is going to have a fantastic day but I think most people are figuring it out. A lot of our locals are seeming to be supporting local, so that helps.”
Woodworth said a pivot, an adaptation and just figuring out a way to make things work has been her keys to success. Understanding and open-minded customers have also made her transition a bit easier.
“We haven’t run into any issues with the public,” she said. “Everyone is in good spirits and just happy to be trying to find some sort of sense of normalcy with all that’s going on. We are lucky to have good support and good customers, which has made the whole thing a little easier.”
A bonus, she noted, should a possible second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic emerge, is that practices and plans are now in place.
“I think we learned that we could manage and survive and that we built a business that people have come to support, so we made it through COVID a little bit better than what I expected.”