As a small business owner, the pandemic was a challenging and scary time. When lockdowns began and my store, Creative Escape, had to close its doors, I felt like I was in a state of perpetual panic. I had bills to pay and the survival of the store was uncertain. I had to think and act quickly to change how I do business in order to make it work. It required flexibility, trying new things, and pivoting quickly if they didn’t work.
One of the first changes was moving our operations online and building a functional web store, to give our customers a way to “visit” the shop. We implemented touchless deliveries and spent our afternoons zipping around town on our little Vespa with masks and customer orders. We also began socially distanced pickups– which felt like doing drug deals in our parking lot. Through our long hours and tireless efforts these changes started to move the dial from zero sales to levels that made it feel like we just might be able to make it work. In fact, business was steady enough that we started to receive distressed looks from the staff at the pizza place next door, who thought we were trying to steal their business while they were closed to customers! Of course, they were relieved to learn that the pizza boxes we were using to pack orders were just filled with paper.
As we continued to struggle with figuring out how to do business in the pandemic, the close collaboration and support within our buying group and community, Crafters Home, became increasingly important. My store is in California and I had a front row seat to the severe impacts of school closures and local business lock downs because they were happening here first. My kids were at home on video chats all day with their teachers and classmates, which inspired me to set up similar weekly touch points with the other store owners. These meetings provided a breath of fresh air, allowing us to unload our anxieties and share stories about the changes we were making to keep our businesses going. All the store owners were facing their own challenges and we helped each other figure out what types of changes were working.
We learned how some store owners were able to more frequently and closely reach their customers using social media. So, we leaned heavily on social media, with daily live streams to highlight new products and projects. We replied to comments and collected likes. Slowly, but surely, we all started to move from worrying about permanently closing our doors, to imagining how can we leverage these new found techniques, technologies, and relationships to do something interesting and unique.
Out of this collaboration came the idea for Maker Mania, a live virtual event across 24 stores, 3 countries, and many timezones. We worked with vendors to create kits and each store owner built 2-3 unique card and project designs. During the event, each store had a time slot to show their creations and teach customers how to make them. Maker Mania has been a huge success, providing our customers with a fresh, unique experience and breaking our store owners out of our geographic bubbles, exposing our businesses to customers around the world. We’re currently planning our 7th Maker Mania this February and have been delighted with their reception.
While the pandemic was devastating and difficult, in the end, it also brought about unexpected opportunities for growth and collaboration. My business, Creative Escape, is stronger now because of the challenges we faced and the changes we were able to make. Crafters Home found new life as a vibrant community of caring colleagues. I cherish the close connections we have built with the other stores in our community and am grateful for the support we have received from vendors, designers, and our valued customers.