Digital content an organic fit for natural bath and beauty brand Lovely Body
Lovely Body, Sarah Johnston’s natural bath and beauty products shop in Thunder Bay, is built around experience. Customers move through the store led by their senses while staff offers insight and share ingredients. It’s a place where people go to be surrounded by beautiful scents and often walk out with soaps and bath bombs, says Johnston.
That experience has been decidedly different amidst the backdrop of the pandemic. “People can only walk so far into our shop now and then we have a table set up where you can see what we have available,” says Johnston. It’s become a counter-style general store. “(We’re trying) to make it as easy as possible for people to still get that immersive experience without really being able to offer it right now.”
But there’s a dichotomy in demand. On the one hand, the Thunder Bay community is fiercely supportive of Lovely Body and its approach to natural products. On the other side, that demand means clients often have to line up outside.
“To have that general store and have it be one-on-one, it’s pretty time-consuming,” she says. “Not that I don't like interacting with customers, but I would always have that kind of anxiety of, oh god, there are people waiting in line and I can't get to them fast enough.”
In a lot of ways, Johnston is struggling with the same thing a lot of businesses have been dealing with, that wholly unusual customer experience of the pick-up model. In the early days of the pandemic, Lovely Body was able to tap into a Digital Main Street digital transformation grant that offered some relief. The program combines funding and one-to-one support from the Province of Ontario alongside partners like Google to help main street businesses strengthen their online capabilities and plan for the digital future.
For Lovely Body, that $2,500 helped them purchase another point-of-sale system to allow them to streamline the experience at the front of the store without the anxiety of a growing line-up. “It was easier to check on a product to see (if it was) sold out online.” They also invested in social media content, which was an easy decision for Johnston. A registered nurse by trade, Johnston built the brand online as a side project – an answer, of sorts, to the lotions she frequently found herself using at work full of ingredients she didn’t know anything about that often ended up irritating her hands.
“It was a self-interest thing where I just wanted something that I could use, you know?” she says. “I started dabbling in that and from there I opened up an Etsy shop and thought, let’s just kind of see what happens.”
The online store ended up being the number one Canadian bath and beauty seller and within the top 100 globally. “Definitely not anything that I expected.” The shop came shortly after, another experiment, but one that has consistently validated her theory about natural bath and beauty products. She’s come full circle in the pandemic with the online shop again playing a big role in the business.
But it feels different this time around. In the beginning, it was just her shooting photos on an old iPhone. “It’s a huge amount of time that goes into staging a photo, taking the photo, then editing it and putting it up on the website,” she says. The grant helped her outsource that last Christmas, the busiest time of the year for her. It’s also given her some high-quality videos and content as she goes forward. There’s no question in Johnston’s eyes that social is a good investment. But it has to be done right.
“The photos that you post are so important,” she says. “So to be able to get somebody else whose whole focus is just these pictures and these videos is a huge help.”
Written by Andrew Seale
Digital Main Street was created by the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas (TABIA) with direct support from the City of Toronto. DMS is also supported by a group of strategic business partners, including Google, Mastercard, Shopify, Microsoft, Facebook, Intuit QuickBooks, Square, Yellow Pages and Lightspeed.
A $7.45 million from the Province of Ontario brought together the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas, Communitech, Invest Ottawa and the Ontario Business Improvement Area Association to expand the Digital Main Street Platform in order to support more businesses going digital as a response to the impacts of COVID-19 in Northern Ontario.