“If you didn’t know before the pandemic, you do now,” said Fletcher, who spent the early days of lockdown frantically hunting for online deals on cleaning wipes, toilet paper, hand sanitizer and paper towels.
Demand now is trending toward patio furniture for spring. But either way, Fletcher doesn’t think the online shopping trend is going to reverse itself even when the threat of COVID-19 is gone.
Retail was already headed that way, she said. The pandemic just kicked it into overdrive.
A new love for local
At Grainwell, a custom wood décor shop owned by two sisters in Covington, the scene is almost normal on a recent afternoon.
Sure, employees are masked up and distanced, the telltale signs of the pandemic, but other than that, it looks a lot like business as usual. One woman upstairs is working on new designs while another sands cutting boards and a third runs a laser cutter etching out prints of city skylines.
The pandemic was tough for Grainwell in the early days. Sisters Michele Tibbs and Melyssa Kirn had to close their boutique, first to comply with an order from Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, and then because it just wasn’t making enough money. Eventually, they had to lay off their employees, which, aside from the sisters, included three full-time and six part-time workers.
But while they were closed, Tibbs and Kirn took the time to focus on updating the shop’s website. It was something they’d been saying they’d do forever, but they never seemed to find the time. Then, suddenly, they had nothing but time.
Grainwell started offering curbside pickup – a service Tibbs thinks will stick around regardless of the pandemic – and they started doing more special sales and deals on social media.
Little by little, business started coming back, and Grainwell was able to rehire all its employees. They ended the year down about 5% overall, Tibbs said, but they had a 10% increase in corporate custom orders and a 32% increase in online sales.
Perhaps more importantly, Tibbs has noticed an uptick in loyalty and support from customers who are excited about shopping local and supporting small businesses like Grainwell.
“I think they just realized, small businesses are here because of the support of these local communities,” she said. “I think they realized, ‘Wow, this could close if they don’t have our support.’”
‘Boo, we are not going to eat all this’
Small business owners around the region said they’re experiencing more support and love as a result of the pandemic, particularly those with businesses related to health and wellness.
The pandemic has been tragic in so many ways, said Reynolds, whose company is called
B the Keeper, but “one positive was the fact that people really started to dial back into nature. And our business has been successful as a result. … COVID really got people’s senses dialed in.”
Tiana Mutts started a cheesecake business during the pandemic, almost by accident.
Mutts’ fiancé, a videographer/photographer, was bored and looking for something to shoot. Mutts was bored, too, so she whipped up 30 cheesecake jars and told her fiancé to take pictures of those. She made strawberry crunch and cookies and cream, and at the end, they had beautiful photos and – 30 jars of cheesecake.
“I’m like, ‘Boo, we are not going to eat all this,’” Mutts said.
Her fiancé suggested she try to sell them, and within two hours, all 30 jars were gone.
Mutts was shocked. She tried it again the next day with 50 cheesecake jars, and those sold out in a couple of hours, too.
Mutts started using all the extra time she had because of the pandemic to experiment with different cheesecake flavors, and thus
Tiana’s Cheesecake Wonders was born. Now, with 15 flavors under her belt, Mutts sells about 100 cheesecake jars a week, the max she can bake.
White chocolate peanut butter. Key lime. Vanilla bean. Cinnamon Roll. Pineapple upside down cheesecake. And there are cookies and cakes
on her website, too.
Right now, the orders are pickup only from Mutts’ Finneytown home, but she is looking into how to make shipping work without raising the price too much. Cheesecake jars are $12 or $15 each, depending on the flavor.
“Money was just the bonus,” she said. “It was that extra income to make us know that there’s a little bit of security through the pandemic.”
Mutts wishes she would have launched Cheesecake Wonders years ago, but looking back, she doesn’t think it actually would have happened without the pandemic. Maybe the customers wouldn’t have been quite as supportive of new, local business. Or maybe she just wouldn’t have, on a whim, made 30 cheesecake jars in a single afternoon.