Love (For My Small Business) In The Time Of Covid-19
I was honored to write an article for 209 Business Journal for their June issue about how COVID-19 has affected my new small business and how I plan to move forward.
Love (For My Small Business) In The Time Of Covid-19
Just like any epic love story the love for my small business is real, even during this crushing time of Covid-19. How my business recovers and moves forward will be the biggest challenge of our professional relationship and we were only in our honeymoon stage. I own a fine women’s clothing boutique with a fashion concierge service. We opened in December of 2019 nestled in the resurgent downtown Modesto area and closed on March 14, 2020. Now as we begin to climb out of our cocoon to reopen we must assess if our love is meant to last.
Many may argue that retail was in trouble long before the coronavirus stopped the world in its tracks and that opening a boutique was small business suicide. Like many entrepreneurs, I weighed my pros and cons and asked many questions. In my three decades working in the industry as a fashion show stylist, personal shopper as well as a department store executive, I heard the complaints of my customers who missed expert advise that the internet and conglomerates did not offer. Many wanted a dress they felt beautiful in without the risk of two other ladies showing up in the same thing. When shopping for my clients in the Bay Area it was common to run into someone from the Central Valley looking for something special so far from home. So, with my experience, leadership qualities, love for my craft, tenacity and a business plan I followed my dream to give this area quality women’s clothing without having to drive two hours.
Fast forward a few short months and my dream may be over before it had a chance. But wait! Life as we knew it may be different but, we are still us! Lounging around in my comfy clothes the last few months felt right but I fully intend to regain my stylish groove! I look forward to giggly girl’s shopping days. I still want to dress up for dinner out with my husband and I want to wear a pretty dress to my niece’s wedding! I am still me!! And as much as my sweatpants and I have become BFF’s I refuse to wear them to a wedding!
My heart goes out to stores like Neiman Marcus, Nordstroms and Bloomingdales. I will miss them, however, I’m proud to carry some fo their noted brands like, Halston, Black Halo and Alo. If you are like me you want to touch the fabric, see the cut on your body shape and get honest advice. I too get excited when boxes show up at my doorstep, but it can be a daunting and lonely experience when you’re not confident with fashion.
What will style even look like after the coronavirus aftermath? After all, people lost loved ones, their jobs, their everyday lives. Previous world crises brought on many other fashion metamorphoses. In the twenties postwar era women embraced short and loose dresses that differed from their once constricting corsets and floor dusting skirts. After World War II women embraced a more feminine exaggerated silhouette (like the Christian Dior New Look) after wearing utilitarian clothes while working at home for the men who were serving their country. Women’s Wear Daily trend forecasters feel fashion will embrace an “emotional maximalism.” It will focus on fabrics that feel good on the skin, colors that evoke happiness and silhouettes and exaggerated details that allow us to escape from reality.
So how do I keep the love alive for my small business during all this change? First, I partnered with Sierra Valley Small Business Development Center and leaned into any advise I could. Zoom meetings in my P.J. bottoms were the norm. During our shelter-in-place I committed to expanding my client base through social media. I basically channeled my inner teenager by focusing on my screens morning to night. I scrolled, downloaded, deleted apps, analyzed my audience, edited, posted, researched and compared similar brands. I basically tried to figure out what my brand is, how to portray it and get my customers to trust me. It! Is! Exhausting! And time consuming! The small accomplishments are exhilarating, until your teenager points out something in thirty seconds (with an accompanying eye roll) that took me a week to digest.
I thought we had been ahead of the crowd by getting our store online early. Our business plan had always included e-commerce as a focus. Unfortunately for me, when businesses closed it gave other boutiques the time to also get online now giving me twice as much competition than previously anticipated. This makes understanding shopping and marketing via social media imperative. I see a push in supporting local and small business but they have to know you exist.
How do we show love for our customers and employees? Having an at risk mother, staying home was the right thing to do personally for my family. The health and safety of our community has always been a priority and we are working hard to resume our personalized service. We have implemented safety measures during this pandemic to allow for a stress-free shopping experience. Staff will conduct wellness checks and wear face coverings daily. Disposable masks will be available as well as designer masks for sale. Social distancing will be encouraged. Sanitizing stations will be available near all entrances as well as frequent and enhanced cleaning of surfaces. Returns will be re-steamed and quarantined for one day before returning to the sales floor. If there are too many people in the boutique at one time we will lock the door and buzz customers in. If you still feel at risk we offer private shopping appointments, online shopping at www.lilianadowntown.com, curbside pickup and virtual fashion concierge services.
Lastly, I love what I do but compensation pays for the electricity. The paradox is, I believe in myself however, if I’m a sinking ship I cannot drown everything else along with me. We are a business that as of yet, falls through the cracks of financial relief. No funding has been bestowed our way. Luckily, support from family and friends for this dream has brought me to my humbled knees and I refuse to give up! We are so grateful for the support of our local community and new online customers. Step by step I am optimistic we will endure.
The road ahead is still hard whether you are a new small business or an established one. Eventually, there will be someplace to go, something to celebrate and you will be YOU again soon enough! I want you to feel the exuberance of expressing yourself either in sweatpants or a nice dress. Liliana Downtown will be here to give you an unparalleled luxury shopping experience and our epic love story can hopefully last the test of time.