As states continue phased re-openings, independent specialty stores are planning for and implementing reopening strategies of their own. Many have turned to their creativity and some have even put their efforts towards supporting others. With the overwhelming response from our recent Digital Session, Retailer Roundtable…What Now and What Next? we reached out to more independent retailers to learn how they’re planning for the future and supporting their local communities. And if you missed the digital session, click here to watch it on demand.
Translating that unique in-store experience online has been key for many retailers. One in particular is Little Nomad, a children’s boutique in Richmond, Virginia who pride themselves on building and fostering community and making their space feel comfortable and welcome to all. “Community is the future of brick and mortar,” Little Nomad’s owner, Anthony Bryant says. And they’ve built that community through hosting a robust calendar of in-store events like drag queen story time, family dance parties, doula workshops, local author and illustrator events, and more.
And that programming didn’t stop when their doors temporarily closed mid-March by utilizing IG Live to host events digitally. “We have done two drag queen story times which have been really well received. And that was one of those things like, ‘Oh wow, why haven’t we done this before?’” Bryant plans to continue the digital offering even when the physical location reopens. “It just opens your eyes to what can be when people are not able to physically be in your space for whatever reason. To have that live ability, people seem to be gravitating toward it and that’s been really eye opening for me.”
Always inspiring is to see how businesses give-back to their communities by supporting local organizations. A perfect example is Editorial, a women’s boutique based in Montreal, Canada. The owner, Jackie Wong explains their recent give-back initiative: “Apart Together WorldWide is a project we developed to help our community raise money for charities related to COVID relief.” She adds that the first charity they’re supporting is The Breakfast Club of Canada. “The Breakfast Club of Canada is a non-profit organization that ensures students receive proper nutrition in schools. While they are closed due to the pandemic, the Club is working with organizations, communities, schools and school districts to meet the needs of children and families who face food insecurity at home.”
Another incredible story comes from Bethany Yellowtail, the founder and designer of B. Yellowtail, a Native American apparel and accessories brand. Yellowtail is from Northern Cheyenne & Crow tribes, launched her first collection in 2015 and quickly expanded to include Native American artists across North America through her online initiative, The Collective.
What started with 10 artists from her tribe has expanded into fifty. Yellowtail explains, “The Collective is like an incubator of indigenous entrepreneurs.” A majority of the profits sold from The Collective go directly to the artists, but during the COVID-19 pandemic, Bethany chose to deliver 100% of profits to the artists. She says that she loves sending checks home to her native people. “It was such a new concept for many of the artists, but they trusted me to share culture and beauty with people all over the world. They’re able to control their narrative and tell their story in a way that’s true to them.”
And at Karavel, a footwear store in Austin, Texas, Rick Ravel says that they’ve been able to support their local food banks through the sales of face shields. “We offered the shields to some of our retail friends for the price of $10/shield to be donated to their local food banks,” explains Ravel. “We call it Food for Shields and have so far raised over $2,000 for local food banks throughout the country.”
Another key to successful re-opening is the health and safety of the store employees and clients. “We check each sales associates temperature when they come into the store,” explains Ravel. “We set up a tent outside our store with a sign in sheet as we started with appointments only six days a week and restricted hours. We check each customer’s temperature, make them wear masks and use hand sanitizer when they enter. Our customers are extremely happy with the precautions that we have taken as well as our staff.”
Social distancing within the store environment is another important piece to re-opening. Drinkwater’s in Cambridge, Massachusetts is a 1,000 sq.ft. menswear store that will allow eight people in the store at a time: two employees and six customers. Co-owner, Gary Drinkwater tells us that in addition to all of the government and CDC guidelines they’ll be following, that they’re also wearing and selling protective face coverings from some of their vendors including Dion, Individualized Apparel, New England Shirt Company, as well as the store’s tailor.
Sloane Hartly, owner of Hartly’s a fourth-generation women’s store in Westwood, New Jersey says that they have great relationships with their customers and will start the re-opening process slowly by offering one-on-one personal styling appointments. Hartly says that while their physical location was closed, they used Instagram, email, Facebook and even made TikTok videos to connect with customers, as well as offered personal styling sessions through Facetime and Zoom.
To learn more about how independent retailers are navigating the current climate and planning for the future, tune in to our digital session, Retailer Roundtable…What Now and What Next? Watch the session here.