For Millpond Records and Books selling online gets people through the door
Colin Robertson and Christine Schmalz had only been living in the village of Hespeler for a little while when they heard local favourite Millpond Records and Books was closing down. So they did what any sensible couple with a growing family and careers in full swing (Schmalz in agriculture policy and Robertson as an assistant professor in the geography department at Wilfrid Laurier University) would do – they bought it.
“We’re really committed to our little community Hespeler and wanted to be part of what we see as the revitalization of that area,” says Robertson. “My wife has a little bit of a business background, so that has helped out quite a bit but we kind of just took a leap.”
A year and a half in, running a record and book store has proven a steep learning curve. “We’re kind of feeling our way through it.” The staff, a collection of bibliophiles and music aficionados with their own eclectic tastes are certainly an asset. “People get to know them and know their interests,” says Robertson.
But it’s still a challenge.
Despite their relative newness to both the community and the books and music business, the previous owners of Millpond Records and Books had already taken it upon themselves to develop a database of the products in the store. The inventory was tracked and they had online sales through their website. “That's pretty unique for a used bookstore or a used record store,” says Robertson. “So that underlying infrastructure is kind of there.”
When Robertson and Schmalz heard about the roll-out of Digital Main Street, a program which leverages grants and one-to-one support from the Province of Ontario to help main street businesses across Ontario strengthen their digital and online capabilities, they saw an opportunity to invest further in that infrastructure.
“Having worked with the current system for over a year and a half, we know what works and what we want to change,” says Robertson.
“Digital Main Street is an opportunity for us to be able to capitalize on that experience.”
Millpond Records and Books is in the midst of merging those several systems with help from the Digital Service Squad. “Right now our inventory, our point of sale, and our online selling are three loosely connected systems so we’re collapsing our inventory system and our web-based e-commerce platform (into) one,” says Robertson.
Once completed it’ll help streamline inventory updating and ensure all the different components are talking to one another more efficiently. “We're in the process of doing that and it will really enhance our kind of ability to sell online.”
But Robertson says he’s quickly realized that for a local favourite like Millpond Records and Books, selling online is really just another way to get people through the door.
“The majority of our customers that purchase online are actually local… they're buying online so that they can just come and pick stuff up and not have to pay shipping,” says Robertson. “There's a real sense of community identity and pride – it's pretty cool to be part of that.”
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.
This case study was completed during a prior expansion of DMS in partnership with the Province of Ontario and Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.
In June 2020, a $42.5-million investment from FedDev Ontario and an additional $7.45 million from the Government 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.