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WEB EXCLUSIVE After 30 years maintaining a personalized in-person shopping experience at Main & Taylor in North Hills, owner Diane Chinnis was forced to change the boutique shoe store’s operations due to the coronavirus pandemic. When the state shut businesses down at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, Chinnis developed an online store to sell products in order to continue reaching her customers—before COVID, Main & Taylor’s website didn’t have anything on it available to buy.
Chinnis says she held out on offering an online store for a long time because she believes in the one-on-one interaction her store offers when customers come in. “We have lots of great relationships with our customers,” Chinnis says. “My husband and I thrive on that interaction.” When people come into the store to shop, they’re able to ask about different shoe styles, try on a various sizes and get recommendations from employees.
Chinnis has been able to continue that same personal service online, through emails and phone calls with customers. If she sees a customer has ordered a shoe that runs on the larger side, she’ll let them know they might want to size down. She’ll send additional photos of a shoe if a customer requests it, or talks to shoppers on the phone about what she thinks of a shoe. During the pandemic, Chinnis’s husband even made local deliveries to shoppers’ doorsteps. “You’re not going to get that from a Nordstrom or a Zappos,” Chinnis says.
Main & Taylor is just one of many local businesses that have had to change time-honored operations and philosophies. Jason Jefferies of Quail Ridge Books also chose to focus on online sales, offering free shipping nationally and curbside pickup locally. While Quail Ridge sold books on its website before, during the shutdown the store increased its online sales by 3,000 percent. Now, Quail Ridge is open to eight customers at a time, but Jefferies says he’ll continue to offer free shipping nationally for as long as he believes people should stay at home. “Our number one priority is the safety of our staff and our customers,” he adds. Additionally, instead of running author events in the store, a common pre-COVID ritual for Quail Ridge, the store streams virtual semianrs, readings and conservations with featured authors online through Zoom.
With the future still unknown, Chinnis also plans to keep up with Main & Taylor’s online store. She’s already added shoes for the fall season, which can also be purchased through Facebook. But she says she hopes people will realize that just because her store has a web presence now, it doesn’t mean customers can’t call her or reach out by email, or they can come into the store if they’re comfortable doing so. “[Our customers] still want to support us and look at shoes and [the website] gives them a way to do that,” Chinnis says. “It’s just a different layer to help our customers and keep our business open.”
Other local businesses that have had to pivot their operations include Vermillion, whose owner, Ashley Vermillion Webb, has been posting daily videos featuring new merchandise on Instagram and Facebook, styled on herself, an employee or a mannequin. Brovelli Oil, Vinegar & Gifts in City Market started a mobile cooking class by which a professional chef teaches attendees how to cook different recipes at home using the store’s olive oils and balsamic vinegars. Additionally, Deco Raleigh is offering shopping by appointment in order to allow customers to come in and peruse the store safely.
It’s a weird time for everyone right now, but local businesses have proven that they’re able to pivot their services in unique ways to continue to accommodate customers while keeping everyone–employees and the public–safe.
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