It’s time to talk about what a year it’s been.
2020 offered all of us something new to learn. For some, that was an unexpected hobby (shout out to all the sourdough bread enthusiasts out there!) or perhaps finally nailing that TikTok routine. We learned to use ultra-specific jargon like quarantine, social distancing, PPE, and flattening the curve in our daily conversations. We even discovered that working from home is somehow possible despite many little ones and pets becoming our new co-workers.
But for those of us who own small businesses, there were also many challenging truths to accept. Not to be the bearer of bad news, but Yelp recently reported tens of thousands of small businesses closed this year – many for good.
We feel fortunate that we have been able to keep Idea Chíc thriving, even through such (dare I use the word?) unprecedented times. As the year finally comes to a close, Julie and I thought it would be valuable to take some time and reflect on all that has changed for Idea Chíc. We certainly saw some big transformations to the industry and the way our consumers behave. Here are a few of our lessons learned in 2020:
Customer support is king.
Due to the pandemic, Idea Chíc, like most businesses, experienced delivery delays and supply chain hindrances. Guests had heightened (and sometimes displaced) anxiety about their orders. In response, we focused on increasing our empathy. We spent time listening and responding to every piece of feedback we received. Prioritizing resolution with our guests has always been a core value of Idea Chíc’s, but arguably the most important part of our COVID response. In addition, we worked quickly to adjust our brick & mortar to allow for socially distanced shopping when allowed by Colorado’s public health experts. Our guests like to hang out, so we transformed our storefront to include separate nooks for custom meeting spaces and spread out browsing.
Innovation is here to stay.
We all got used to shopping online this year – even our older customers now love it. People looking for stationery aren’t coming through the door to flip through a look book anymore. They’re reading reviews and ordering online. The stationery industry is changing, but beyond that, our collective culture is transforming as well. Online isn’t just for big businesses anymore; E-commerce has become a major pipeline for revenue for small businesses, too. This year, we added curbside pickup for local online orders. Our guests also shared that their preferred way to communicate with us was over SMS, so we improved our text message service options, too. We’ve seen firsthand that if you don’t embrace new technology, like online shopping and home delivery, you will inevitably face a more challenging time connecting with new customers.
Adaptability must be your culture.
You may have heard the adage: don’t ask “now what?” ask “what now?”. We operated our business model with that top of mind this year. Because we already had an omni-channel commerce strategy in place, we didn’t have to make many dramatic changes to our retailing – we simply had to adapt. For example, instead of hiring a wedding invitation designer, we put that on hold (as most weddings went on hold) and used the funds to bring on a photographer and a copywriter to improve the online customer experience. We also moved our production and assembly space to a separate location from our storefront. This allowed us to provide a larger and more organized workspace for our employees. Our assembly team shared that coming to work felt safe and personal, a huge feat during a public health crisis. Being able to adapt quickly is something that we believe kept us growing even against the odds of this year.
Pay attention. Seriously.
Pay attention to national trends as well as your specific business trends. Two examples: On the macro level, with Amazon emerging as a key player in national logistics, other suppliers are challenged to do better. This will most certainly affect how small businesses fulfill online orders and ship products. On the micro level, earlier this year, we actually stopped producing a top-selling card because it just didn’t make sense from a wholesale product development stance – we would lose revenue by continuing to produce it. Keeping an eye on the news and numbers allows you to get ahead and increase the potential for larger margins down the road. The steps to prepare early may seem inconsequential at first, but this year we were especially reminded that every step is a step forward.
Be as diverse as possible.
When we say diverse, we mean it in a few ways: product, people, and channel development. If you have a variety of quality products, your doors won’t be forced to close if one line takes a dip in sales. With a diversity of people supporting you, you have fresh perspectives, differing strengths, and even some room to delegate. Sleep is important! And finally, with channels – it’s essential to reach the customer where the customer wants to be. Online and brick & mortar are just two of those channels, but it’s important for retailers not to fight the trends and to learn where their customers are shopping. If you have a creative approach to securing a new sale, we say go for it.
Micro fulfillment is the future.
Ah yes, this is what we’re most looking forward to next year. We truly believe micro fulfillment will keep small businesses competitive with Target, Wal-Mart, and Amazon. Your aunt in California doesn’t have to wait until her next visit to Denver to get her Idea Chíc stationery anymore – she can order it herself online, and we’ll ship it just as fast as any big box store. We believe small orders will continue to grow, and we’re excited to expand in this way. The future of small and independent businesses will depend on servicing not just the local community but the global through micro fulfillment centers in many markets.
As we look back on the year, a significant theme of our lessons learned has emerged: connection. At Idea Chíc, we believe in the value of human connection – we are a stationery store, after all! But more than years past, 2020 has reminded us how incredibly important it is to slow down, listen, and grow alongside our customers. What lessons did last year teach you? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.