Growing up in small town Texas was awesome. Little League games, block parties, summer days spent lost in country fields only to show up for dinner, and my first job at age 5. My parents owned a small boutique shop known for its unique gifts and amazing year-round Christmas displays. I swept. At the age of 5.
I’m only now recalling that I wore an apron while I swept -- so people would know I was an employee. We had lots of long weeknights at the shop, lots of weekends filled with sales and inventory counts (I wasn’t held responsible for my lack of counting skills...at least not until middle school), bi-annual trips to Dallas market where they’d shop for the next trend in home decor or toys or clothes, and many a Christmas Eve spent gift wrapping orders for the people of Seguin. It was exciting and I remember looking up to my parents for their work ethic and sense of hustle for their small business. I still do. They owned Gift & Gourmet from 1983 to 1998 when my dad decided to venture more into his passion for interior design with yet another small business venture that he still has today. That shop, Gift & Gourmet, stood the test of time and literally still exists after having multiple owners over the years and finding a home in 3 different buildings in our small town. In 2013, he found the downtown ballroom that housed his interior design business (DesignAssociatestx.com) was quickly filling with furniture and lamps. So The Shop was born out of the idea that: we’ve got this gorgeous sofa that we used for staging, let’s try to sell it! Those trips to Dallas Market began again, but times had changed. The economy had changed. Shopping had changed -- even in small town Texas.
As The Shop’s inventory grew, it was evident that an eCommerce store was necessary. But the day-to-day struggles and jobs kept pushing the project back, until it was almost forgotten. When it would be brought up at staff meetings and in family conversations there were always too many daunting questions and not enough time to gather the knowledge of where to begin. So years passed and business went up, then down, then plateau -- but always in the back of everyone’s mind was: man we need to get this inventory online! At one point, my mom even purchased a 12-month plan for Shopify. The account sat empty and dormant for 12 months.
Dan and I met with my dad and his team last Fall to discuss a 2 phase project. Phase 1 would be a redesign of the Design Associate’s website complete with client portfolio and rehaul of their email systems (let’s just say there was an sbcglobal email address involved prior to the rehaul). Phase 2 would be an eCommerce site. The timeline was loose as was our knowledge of how to accomplish Phase 2, but finally, 37 years in the making...it would be happening.
As a teaser to the rest of this post, I’ll say that the COVID19 outbreak did not put a damper in things...it accelerated them.
After our Fall meeting with my dad’s small team in Seguin, we got to work redesigning the interior design business’s website. We didn’t hit too many bumps in the road other than having the wrong Pantone color for his logo after we were sent assets. The build went slowly mainly because the Fall/Winter season for a shop like The Shop is a very busy time filled with small markets and booth sales around the region. We launched in January and dove into the eCommerce site design. Research led Dan and I down different paths. I kept leaning towards Shopify since I’d used it at a previous job and knew of a few small businesses who used it for similar inventory levels.
Then came late-February when whispers of the Coronvirus COVID19 were leaking into daily conversation. By March I could hear the dread starting to rise with friends who owned small businesses. I called my dad and I feel like we said it at the same time “I/You need your eCommerce store.” Maybe it was my protective nature over my parents or maybe it was because we’ve been in wonderful conversations the last 7 months with small business owners or maybe it was my need to create something right when the world was caving in. But within 48 hours, he had an eComm site. We also talked about offering free virtual furniture arrangement suggestions.
The journey to get that eComm site wasn’t a straight path (probably an unnecessary comment considering the 3 decades of procrastination…) and it wasn’t clean. I leaned into Shopify like never before -- for about 3 minutes. His brick and mortar transactions are completed through Square; so while poking around that account, I realized Square was offering a free eCommerce solution, along with a few more perks they’d add for small businesses dealing with massive losses during this period. Fees and subscriptions for hosting and offering personal delivery/curbside pickup were being waived. I’m not sure of the financial impact those decisions by Square and Weebly will have, but I quickly took to twitter to extend my thanks. Once I had the ‘ah-ha’ moment of duh we should use Square to create this, I spent 4 hours using Weebly templates to create the site. There wasn’t time for the coding/no-code methods Dan and I had planned to use. It was a race against time to hit the market fast. My parents were sending photos of products and I was learning on the fly about how to use modifiers and categories to create an efficient shopping experience.
One of my weaknesses is to rush to get something into the world before it’s fully perfected. So this project was ideal. I could literally feel the clock ticking in my head. Download photo, edit photo, upload photo, input descriptions, adjust modifiers, submit. Download photo, edit photo, upload photo, input descriptions, adjust modifiers, submit. That happened about 60 times over the course of 24 hours (throw in a toddler closing my laptop while I stepped away to help the other toddler get on the potty or grab a snack) and we had a large enough pool of seasonal Easter products and spring chocolates where I felt comfortable hitting publish. It was a whirlwind of 48 hours and the reaction was felt immediately. With the help of some timely and heartfelt Facebook/Instagram videos, The Shop had its most profitable day in months. Maybe more importantly, the Easter chocolate inventory wasn’t going to go to waste! He jokingly said he was considering refilling an order with the company at the rate it was selling.
My dad has never bemoaned his position as a small business owner despite hardships. He takes pride in being a part of Downtown Seguin and it’s revitalization. Not once in this process did he back away or get overwhelmed with the technology advances he was having to take literally by the hour. But the story doesn’t end there. Well, this blog post might end here, but struggles will continue for brick and mortar shops across the world. Applying for the Paycheck Protection Program is his next step, transferring funds from here to there in order to get bills paid, figuring out what life after COVID19 looks like seems futile. My advice has been to take it day-by-day, be flexible, be open minded, help where you can, and remember what is important in your life.
Business strategies sometimes overlap with social responsibility and never more than in the times we find ourselves in now as small business owners. My dad has decided to most likely take a hit in March and April despite the eComm success. He’s been forced to halt curbside pickup in the last week, personal delivery probably isn’t far behind, and he will be giving 20% of The Shop’s April profits to Guadalupe Regional Medical Center to purchase PPEs for local healthcare workers. Times are hard, but what matters most is compassion, grace, and contributing.