Small business retailers adapt to new reality after restrictions ease
As retailers get back to business, a post pandemic world may change the way people shop, and run their businesses. Throughout the past few months, many small retail shop owners have had to do some transforming to match a new normal.
Shawna Rider co-owns ShuzyQ, a shoe boutique in south Anchorage, with her mother. Rider says the shop was in the middle of 10-year anniversary sale when the pandemic hit Alaska.
"We finished our sale on Sunday and then on Monday we had to tell our staff that we had to let them go for the time being, and it was hard," said Rider. "People cried and nobody really knew what to expect."
"It was pretty scary," said ShuzyQ employee, Brenna Moss. "It's hard because, being in school, working here works really well with my schedule."
Kim Stalder owns Circular Boutique. She's another shop owner who's faced similar challenges of health and safety, alongside struggles with inventory.
"I suppose to scariest thing was thinking that I have quite a bit of inventory that was geared toward a normal summer," said Stalder. "That being graduations, weddings-- I sell a lot of dresses, and I still have them. I don't see them selling still. So I've had to order things that were more comfortable, and are things that people need right now."
Shop owners have faced these challenges coupled with issues like cash flow, and the supply chain.
"Countries were shut down. Shippers were shut down. A lot of my brands were unable to manufacture or ship, those that are in New York or L.A. and I've got a number of them, and some of them still aren't up," said Stalder. "I've had brands cancel all of the orders through the end of the year.
Now, having employees and customers back in the store is a step closer to normalcy, but even still, things are far from normal.
"It's still day to day, you know. We're at maybe ... 90% down from where we were last year," said Rider. "Every day is scary, and not knowing if we're going to have a second wave or just how it's going to play out-- how shopping is going to change."
Rider says financial assistance like SBA loans and the Paycheck Protection Program have helped fill the gap.
"It helped us to bring staff back into our store, and it helped us to get re-open," said Rider. "We weren't taking a salary for several months, so it was good to kind of get that and have a little bit of relief."
It also took some serious brain power. These business owners were tasked with coming up with creative ways to adapt to a new reality.
"We just did a Zoom party last night, so one of our reps was on there and she was showing everybody the Spring shoes," said Rider.
Stalder took an approach of offering gift boxes to her customers. Stalder shipped and delivered boxes of items like accessories, and candles wrapped up with different themes.
"They turned out to be kind of a fun thing because it's a way to let people know that you're thinking about them when you're not actually seeing them," said Stalder. "I was surprised in a way because I've tried gift boxes before and they were never really a favorite thing of my customers, but they kept me alive for the first month or so."
Stalder says being able to re-open in stages has been a saving grace for many small businesses, as well as the loyal customers who continue to shop local.
"I don't feel that this has killed my business in any way. It was just sort of something we had to move through and adjust as we go, and we're still doing it, but I feel really positive about the future."