Digital Main Street helps open Sleepers Bed Gallery’s eyes to digital
Four years ago, Sadie Shewfelt joined the family business Sleepers Bed Gallery in downtown Kincardine full-time.
She’d been raised on the selling floor amongst the beds, pillows and home décor but this would be different.
Sadie recalls one of the first things her mother, Heather Shewfelt said was that she “wasn't allowed to make any changes for a year."
It was an exercise in patience and humility. Sadie had just graduated from business school in Waterloo and when the elder Shewfelt floated the idea of selling the business she’d opened in 1996 (“Sadie was a year old and I was pregnant with my next one,” says Heather) her daughter was adamantly opposed. “Her heart broke, she said ‘you can't do that – actually I want to come in with you, I want to buy the store,’ ” says Heather. “And so that kind of put a whole new twist on things.”
Sadie says she started working on the floor as a sales associate, learning from the other employees. “I started from the ground up and then kind of just kept working my way closer and closer,” says Sadie. “Then we created our plan.”
The time spent with customers had given Sadie a much-needed perspective. “The things I learned in school were (very) city-based, whereas we are a small town,” says Sadie. “There are huge differences between what works in a city and what works in a small town and that's something that nobody can teach you – the best way to learn is through our customers.”
The mother-daughter duo agreed social media would be a bigger part of the business going forward, but Sadie quickly realized it’d have to embody the same authentic, know-your-neighbour approach that had made Sleepers Bed Gallery so successful over the years. That personal attention looks different in the age of social media, but that doesn’t preclude the older generation of shoppers that want to connect one-to-one with the Shewfelts and their staff on the selling floor.
“Whenever I post online, I always try to ask questions,” says Sadie. And when they get answers she responds and builds that same one-to-one relationship through digital channels.
Amidst the pandemic, Sleepers Bed Gallery has been selling decorative pieces and smaller items on Instagram. Sadie says she posts it in the stories and it goes pretty quickly. “I'd say 80% of the stuff we've been posting we've sold, which has been insane.”
Heather calls the unforeseen shuttering of businesses a kick-in-the-butt. Both the Shewfelts agree their website was lacking before the pandemic which put them in a tough spot when it hit. But they had already made some headway.
The pair heard about Digital Main Street, a program that combines grants and one-to-one support from the Province of Ontario and the Ontario BIA Association to help main street businesses strengthen their online capabilities, through their BIA. That led to applying for and receiving a $2,500 Digital Transformation Grant.
But it wasn’t just the grant, says Sadie, the lessons learned through the program helped them rethink how they were using digital channels. “I learned through Digital Main Street like 90 per cent of people do their research online before they even walk into your store, so they know as much as you're going to tell them before they even come in.”
They also used some of the funds from the grant to investigate more original content including videos, things that would really bring out the personality of the business online. “We want people to be able to understand who we are and understand that you're buying from a family-run business that's been here for 24 years for a reason,” says Sadie.
And although the pandemic has managed to keep them busy finding ways to stay connected with customers in an isolating time, the Shewfelts are hoping to get their website up and running soon. “When Digital Main Street came along, it just opened up a whole new avenue for us to open our eyes and go, okay, (this program) is going to help us enhance what we need to do,” adds Heather. “That was a huge stepping stone for us.”
Written by Andrew Seale