Kincardine’s West Shore turns disaster into digital opportunity
On March 11, 2019, a fire in downtown Kincardine cut through West Shore Clothing and Surf Shop.
The blaze was contained from spreading to the other century-old buildings on the main street but the damage would echo outwards, forcing the decade and a half old epicentre of Kincardine’s surf scene to rebuild.
“It was like, okay, this is a restart button and we’re going to have a bigger, better and nicer shop,” says Tonya Schmalz, who owns the business with her husband Ashley Adams. West Shore Clothing and Surf Shop had reinvented itself a few times already, she says, but being in its 15th year the fire felt like a reset. “You just rise from it and do better.”
The recovery is still ongoing. More than a year later, the shop continues to work on the space. But what initially crippled the business gave Schmalz and Adams a sense of clarity.
“I was selling online lightly before the fire, but it wasn't an investment… I wasn’t putting my heart and soul into it, I was just sort of doing it because I felt like I had to,” says the West Shore co-owner. But she says she was finding a disconnect between in-store shoppers and online customers. “I was posting for them and showing stuff but I wasn’t fully connected.”
Schmalz heard about Digital Main Street, a program which 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, and enrolled.
“After I did Digital Main Street I was like, okay, there are ways that I can actually connect better with my customer on a digital platform,” says Schmalz. The surf and clothing shop owner says she started thinking about analytics and how to be more targetted in the way West Shore was putting itself out there and using its social channels.
Since COVID-19, West Shore saw its online store as a lifeline and moved to get it up and running in about a month. “Now that we've got a website going, I want to get into the Google stuff… I still have more to learn about Instagram, but again, we'll learn it.”
If you pop onto the shop’s Instagram, the business has a solid foundation of followers and an active community. It’s a blend of locals and cottagers, West Shore’s surfing institution status clearly stretching beyond Kincardine. It’s that same sense of community that spurred the outcry of support when the fire happened, and it’s the same sense of community that has kept the shop busy through the pandemic.
But Schmalz and Adams want to do better. They want to continue to adapt and evolve.
“As business owners, sometimes we get comfortable,” says Schmalz. “(But) being comfortable is easy… being uncomfortable is challenging but can lead to your biggest successes.”
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, and Yellow Pages.
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.