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The Effect the Coronavirus Pandemic is Having on Artisan and Designer Shops

by Arianne Foulks

April 2, 2020

We sent a survey out to our subscribers last week, March 25th, 2020, to see how the COVID-19 crisis was affecting their businesses, find out what they were going to do next, and see how we could help. I have results to share, and I hope they help you see how the pandemic is affecting small creative businesses like yours.

We will share the impact on sales in another post. This article shares the concerns, creative plans, and intent to thrive that these business owners shared with me. These were the write-in responses to the questions I asked about what’s going on with everyone. We’re talking about this more in our Facebook group right now—please join us!

Sorelle Gallery custom Shopify website for an art gallery based in New Canaan Connecticut
Sorelle Gallery custom Shopify website for an art gallery based in Connecticut

What surprised small business owners about the pandemic

I asked, is there anything that’s really surprised you about the pandemic in terms of business that you’d like to share? Here are the things people have found surprising about how their business is going during this time.

How quickly things changed:

This was the most common response, with answers from, “How quickly everything shut down – orders cancelled and outstanding invoices not getting paid” to, “How suddenly the plans I had thought could wait (or be procrastinated) became very, very necessary in a short span of time.”

“I admit, that the pandemic has made me really look at my business creatively and image how I could reinvent/change it after the pandemic.”

“I’m not surprised as much as I’m in a state of shock right now. I have finished unloading our store and studio equipment into my house and now have to wrap my head around what is even going on.”

Small businesses are helping each other

“Appreciation for how small to micro businesses are trying to share information and help each other. Not that that should have really been surprising but it is reassuring that in all the panic and fear, our humanity hasn’t been completely erased.”

“I’ve been really thankful for the online small business community. While I don’t have any employees or coworkers, I have found encouragement from my peers in similar situations. I also think my city has been supportive of small businesses, and there is a good amount of effort from people to shop locally!”

Customers are helping small businesses

“Consumers really get that small businesses need support. Although with high levels of uncertainty for everyone it’s difficult for people to spend. And I have been amazed by the generosity of so many, many people – you guys are offering free consultations. Loads of designers in my segment are offering free patterns. People are reaching out and making contact and being incredibly kind.”

“Customers were very supportive and really rushed in to buy things to support the store. People really want to feel good right now so any product that gives them some comfort at home will be a success in the coming months.”

“How incredibly kind our customers are. I’ve always said we have the best customers on the planet, but they are going above and beyond, not just for us, but for our other small business neighbors that I often plug.”

“I’ve been really touched and heartened by the personal notes I’ve received from current and past customers, friends and other small businesses. This is an incredibly daunting moment for small businesses but I’m hoping that it is also making clear to us all how important our local economies are to us.”

Business closures have ripple effects on each other

“In theory I always knew this, but seeing first hand how interconnected so many businesses/industries are.”

“Can’t believe how much wholesale has dropped off! Shocked and sad about the forecast of brick and mortar retailers in the country.”

“I just wasn’t expecting my supplier to close. I don’t know why!?! That was stupid.”

“I thought I was a bit more stable than I am. I knew I could lose even a large handful of wholesalers and still be OK, but I never saw something like this coming where every single wholesale customer is gone. It makes me want to branch out in my business to be more maneuverable.”

“I wasn’t prepared for our manufacturing facility in Canada to shut down.”

“The domino effect – as more businesses close and more industries are affected, I see more income streams drying up.”

“I do have a little bit squirreled away for the business, but I’m also concerned with supplies. I have a limited number of supplies and have not been able to get more. I need to pivot – big time, but I’m not even remotely sure what to do.”

Storytelling and brand strategy are important foundations

“Although I’m still heavily affected by losing all my in-person events, I have been stunned to see how much my last 6ish months of building personal relationships with my customers has really paid off. I feel like because my customers feel like they know me, they’re making the effort to support me in ways they might not for a more faceless company.”

Marketing and selling feel weird right now or just don’t work

“Feeling guilty selling or talking about my business during these times.”

“I feel like the products I create don’t matter at all and trying to sell them at a time like this when many are getting ill and even more people have lost their jobs feels wrong.”

“Since my business is weddings, I always felt secure in that even in difficult times, people get married, they have babies, they eat and they drink 🙂 I really didn’t prepare for a crisis where people couldn’t gather to celebrate.”

“What is most surprising is just having no idea how to proceed in a time when we were counting on significant increased traction and lead generation from in person sales events.”

How important it is to own your own marketing and selling platforms

“How much Amazon as a platform has failed small businesses who have nearly ALL of our inventory in their warehouses. They are currently shipping our items at a 5-6 week delay minimum and will NOT allow us to have our inventory shipped back to us (so we can ship from our homes). They have entirely shut us out.”

Turning to ecommerce during the Coronavirus pandemic

“I’m surprised that so many brick and mortar retailers do not sell online.”

“I never expected everything to stop all at once. Out of five sales channels, only one is viable now.”

“My entire wholesale strategy is destroyed. Retailers have just stopped spending and I wish I had invested more time on B2C.”

“It has not had a massive effect on my business, since most of my sales were online before all of this happened anyway.”

“This a great time to focus on making a website but i don’t know where to go or what to do.”

“Speed! My 5 year plan was to move away from selling in person (140 craft markets last year) to online and 2020 was the year I was going to start exploring this. Now, exploration has become urgent development!”

Soaring Suds custom product photography for a handcrafted soap brand
Soaring Suds custom product photography for a handcrafted soap brand

How Businesses Are Pivoting Creatively Due to COVID-19

I asked, “Have you found any creative ways to adjust your business during the pandemic that you’d like to share?” and we got these interesting replies.

“We’ve done a lot of pivots — offering dropshipping to wholesalers, waiving wholesale minimums, free shipping over $100 for wholesale now. We’ve also opened up gift cards and free shipping for retail customers. We’ve shifted our social media to show more behind the scenes than ever before and remind our followers that we are a small business with 13 team members and need their support now more than ever.”

Shifting to promoting “work from home” and other relevant products

“Pivoting our marketing strategy and social media content. We’re pushing our loungewear items with so many people working from home.”

“We’re starting to share more tips for ways to make your home comfortable while we’re all stuck at home.”

“I’m planning to offer 2 “at-home spa kits” (face and body) at a discount to help make customers’ quarantine / shelter in place times more pleasurable, and include 2 products (that will essentially be free) that I don’t currently offer: a floral facial steam and mineral-rich salt soak. I’ll also include fun, informational cards to accompany the kits and make them feel special!”

“Thankfully, we had planned to create project kits and sell them online in the next year. We moved it up and started gingerly this Monday. We had a good first week of doing so, but I’m struggling to get the inventory quickly enough and I know this is going to be harder before it gets easier. I know we can fight through this, stay alive, and emerge ahead for having done so.”

“I’m figuring out how to add downloadable worksheets to give to my customers for free.”

Communicating with customers as a human, not a brand

“Being a lot more open on social media – behind the scenes of the design process, seeing inside my home, sharing the creative process so that people “out there” have a better understanding of what it takes to run a small business.”

“I’ve been sending more regular updates and info to my mailing list, blog, etc. I’ve been talking more about how I personally am dealing with the crisis – how it’s affecting my life. I’ve been emphasizing caring for each other. And I’ve been offering purchase incentives that are all about self care and de-stressing.”

“I am lucky to be able to reopen soon. Business will be different. I will try to be quick to respond to the customers’ changing needs. I think people need to be connected to their business community and customers at this time. Good relationships will get you through this hard time.”

“I’ve been using my social media more like a journal these days, using photos of my items for imagery but the text is more of a day by day account of what’s going on. I regale my customers with what my daughter is doing on the other side of the studio, so they realize I’m juggling a lot of things. It’s given me something to write, and I actually have found that to be a nice change of pace from my normal slog of social media efforts.”

Marketing in the meantime

“I’m weathering it out and looking ahead to how I can hit the ground running after. I’m working on creating cocktail photos and recipe content to provide marketing value.”

“We offered a product that we were going to discontinue for free to our Instagram and email list. It’s a set of postcards so we could ship inexpensively. We paid postage also. Our following isn’t huge so the cost wasn’t huge either.”

“My personal connections with all of my wholesale accounts are helping me stay in front and in contact for when they are ready to open but I fear it’s going to be a long slow process until they are ready to order again.”

“We’re trying a few fun ways to try to connect with our fans – like we’ll be doing a virtual shopping trip with me via Instagram Live today.”

“On Instagram, moms still seem to want to see inspiration so I’m revamping some old blog posts that could be relevant (activities for kids during the summer, cake recipe that doesn’t require eggs, etc.).”

“We’re about to release a new Kids’ Activity Pack. This kind of offering is right in our wheelhouse, can hopefully help other parents struggling with kids at home, and help keep us relevant and top of mind during this time.”

“I’ve been doing a discount contingent on customers purchasing a gift card from another small business or making a donation to their local food pantry or another cause that needs help in this moment that they care about.”

“I’m going live on Facebook, I’m posting more process videos. I have more time since I’m not tied up in events so I’m creating more unique work I didn’t have time for before.”

Adjusting manufacturing and other processes

“I am designing other products that are manufactured in the US since that facility is still open currently.”

“Offering curbside contactless pickup for orders. Free delivery in our city.”

“I have been trying to develop a strategy to offer drop shipping to my wholesale customers during this time. As many brick and mortars are forced to close, they are also trying to sell online for pick up and shipping. I’d like to figure out a way to help them out.”

“For me, my studio is in my basement so it hasn’t stopped me from working at all (although I’m getting no orders… I just have access to everything). I’ve very surprised though that my work flow has completely changed because of the pandemic. I find myself feeling like I need to focus more on the meditative aspects of my work (via pottery process videos and such) rather than the finished product.”

“My employees are working from home a bit and I am not paying myself at all. It’s going to be hard to get through with running expenses but we will probably be ok as long as it picks up within a couple of months.”

“It’s not making me money, but I’m sewing masks for healthcare workers and people who need protection to continue services to the community (like soup kitchen workers, postal workers, grocery store clerks, etc).”

“We are offering a free hand lettering class everyday – one letter per day on Instagram. We have been selling supplies and kits of goods that support the class. We might be able to get through this first period of distance with this model. We’d like to expand this part of our business for the future.”

“I’ve been de-stashing lots of supplies to other makers who can’t get supplies so that’s been great.”

“I’m working on the vegetable production part of our farm, as food is always good:) Flowers for decor rather than weddings still seem to work, too.”

“I’ve joined a benefit raffle campaign of a collection of craftsmen donating a package of fine kitchen tools that has had profound success. I’ve also reenacted my holiday season giving campaign of 10% of sales going to food banks and free shipping. The response to the raffle especially has been mind blowing, as in participation, money raised, growing my customer base and strengthening my customer base.”

“Right now I’m analysing past sales to look where I can cut back products and maximise revenue (but this might just be a way of procrastinating rather than developing a website).”

Setting up or improving ecommerce and pivoting to online

“We have been working diligently to pivot to our online store. Pushing products, updating featured products, and putting up the products we get the most phone calls about.”

“We’ve moved our retail shop to delivery/curbside pickup. I’m trying to figure out how to quickly ramp up our e-commerce sales as our wholesale income has come to a near full stop.”

“I’m listing as much of my retail store online as I can. I want to switch my brand from a jewelry brand to a lifestyle brand and continue to carry everything retail online once this is done (instead of just my own line).”

“I have started an online subscription service that has helped during this quarantine time.”

“We’re taking orders anyway we can, while we scramble to set up a proper online store. Instagram direct messages, local drop off, making sure to provide daily prompts and check-ins so we can stay connected to our customers and community.”

“We are offering free shipping on everything with no minimum. We also did a virtual craft fair with some local vendors this weekend….and this was a great way to help others in our community and reach out to our own clients too.”

Behind the scenes at SmartyPits headquarters

Thriving Post-Pandemic

My final question was, why do you believe in your business, and how will you thrive post-pandemic? These were some of my favorite responses, and I love this ray of hope:

“My business was born out of the Great Recession. I’ve weathered 8 years already, floundering for a lot of it, but with the business at least always paying for itself. I have seen huge growth in online sales in the last year and I know I’m finally on the real path to success. I’m not a quitter and I’ve learned how to pivot and go with the flow. I believe this pandemic period is going to enable my online business to flourish without the slowdown/distraction of my usual intense craft fair and convention schedule – so, when events start happening again, they’ll be an additional revenue stream/promotional tool, rather than the primary source of income they’ve been in the past.”

“Last June we invested in a DTG printer. So not only can I now print my paintings on tea towels and aprons, I can print on any size of product. I can now offer small things like baby beanies and onesies to large things like pillow covers. Post-pandemic, I plan to have many, many new designs and really thrive like never before not only in my established markets (in person and wholesale) but more online too. This harrowing time has really made it clear that I need to cultivate online far more than I ever have.”

“We are a well run business with a strong, motivated, determined, tenacious, creative team and I am 100% committed to keeping my business going to support the people who work for me and will need to keep working once we move through this crisis. The post-pandemic world will be increasingly socially distant with a lot more online activity, more cocooning, more considered purchasing, less gross consumption, and I hope a general trend towards knowing who you are buying from and consciously supporting businesses and people. We fit this perfectly – people love our brand, what we stand for, who we support, and want to support us when they know our story. I’m just not always good enough at telling it! And i think there is HUGE scope for us to grow online. I just need a little bit of help and some guidance in terms of next steps to make that happen.”

“We have built brand loyalty and a community that truly believes in us. They have rallied around us and pushed us to put out supportive and pro-active tutorials/messages. And we are doing it. Our Shopify site was the framework for us to do a lot of this from so thank you!”

“We have a great handmade product that is well made, we’ve got years of experience, are curious and open to change. Post pandemic I hope more of our business continues to be online. This was the direction we were headed even before.”

“I have spent years building online and have a reputation for excellent customer service. I also think my product (drinking glasses) will be more in demand as people will further shift their behavior to enjoying more small luxuries in their own homes.”

“Our business is strong and we make beautiful products that bring people joy! We are working on becoming much less dependent on Amazon, where we currently do 90% of our business. We are going to focus much more strongly on our website and also adding digital items to vary our product line.”

“Since going full time 4 years ago, I’ve seen my business grow each year. I know there is a market for my work. My collections have grown stronger and are becoming more focused. I have been wanting to find a way to cut back on art festivals, and I think this pandemic is just forcing me to do it more abruptly than I planned. Coincidentally, I went full time more abruptly than I planned after being laid off, so maybe that’s just what I need? Overall, I have faith in my business.”

“I am passionate about what I do, I know that I have a quality product that resonates with my customers, and I will thrive post-pandemic by learning how to connect with them in new ways (i.e. online). My challenge at this point is learning how to do that. I am tenacious, persistent and creative, and I am unwilling to believe that years of hard work can be completely undone simply because the world is changing before our eyes. I will thrive by adapting. I am challenging myself to learn new ways to find, connect with, and sell to those who are enthusiastic about my products.”

“I have spent the last few years developing my work as a designer and artist. I finally feel that I have a clear direction in terms of branding, and I have a much better idea how to run a profitable business than when I first started. I’m trying to use this quarantine as a time to develop new products so that my customers will have lovely things to choose from when shops reopen and shows start up again. While I’m discouraged that the pandemic has affected my sales, I am trying to pivot and focus on the back end of my business and designing new work!”

“At some point, this pandemic will slow down, people will adjust and wedding ceremonies will happen. I’m not that worried yet about getting through this one, but I may need to think about future occurrences. I know that my business is already sustainable and eco conscious. I need to promote my own website a lot more and have a way to promote sales there–as right now I only use my web site to send people to my Etsy shop. Being on a huge marketplace like Etsy that is so affected by the whims of the stock market doesn’t seem the smartest plan. I think that working on my own site and upping my return customer plan via email marketing makes the most sense after this pandemic.”

“This company has been around for a long time – providing sewing patterns that are different – that connect people to culture and history. We will survive because we have a lot of inventory, we have our own warehouse, low overhead, and a company with a good reputation. We have new patterns in the works and plans for the future to grow.”

“I believe that we’ve created something that is very special to so many people. The messages of support and love the business has received in the past week have blown me away. Seeing how fast my team was able to work together to get the online shop up and running and seeing our audience’s response to it has given me hope that we’re adaptable enough and nimble enough to get through this. Hopefully we’ll be stronger once we’re through this, even if it feels terrible now.”

“Just look at our comments on social! I’m going to start crying again, but SO MANY people have purchased, sent messages etc and said “I just don’t want to live in a world without Muddy’s” and “Muddy’s IS Memphis” It’s been amazing. Also, I am resilient as hell and have an amazing team of people who are full of heart, courage, and grit!”

How Are You Doing?

Please either comment below with your thoughts about how this pandemic has affected your business, or join us in the Aeolidia Facebook group to share and hear from others how things are going.

You can subscribe to my newsletter to get the future resources, advice, and free help we’ll be sharing over the next few weeks and months. Please check in with me any time to let me know how the Aeolidia team can help!

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