Kingston boutique UNDR for Men gets comfortable with digital
Kingston’s UNDR for Men isn’t used to the quiet. Underwear stores ask a certain level of energy, or rather, this one does.
During Pride it fills up with patrons and Father’s day and holidays draw unique clientele. But all those would-be celebrations have passed quietly, and it feels weird, says Cindy Baker.
Baker’s been running the store since shopowner Katherine McRae moved overseas with her husband, who’d taken up a two-year military post. “In my contract, we didn't plan for a pandemic,” says Baker. She’s being facetious, of course, no one could’ve. But it’s definitely hurt the business. “Pride is always huge for us… like all the businesses downtown missing the promenades and the buskers and Pride, that's sort of the bread and butter for the year besides Christmas.”
McRae opened the boutique in 2015, which goes beyond just underwear to include a curated selection of socks, beard/shave/skincare, sleepwear, loungewear and swimwear – many of which are Canadian brands. Since then, UNDR for Men has grown its demographic.
“This is the most fun environment,” says Baker adding that it’s the clientele that makes it that way. “Young dads are coming in, families are coming in, grandmas are coming in, military guys… the LGBTQ community is great for us, a lot of travelling businessmen come in – for some reason they always forget their underwear when they travel, I don't know why that is, but I'm starting to think it's because they know we're here.”
But the shift in foot traffic over the past few months has prompted McRae and Baker to focus on emulating that experience online. “When customers are in the store, after just a few minutes of talking to any of our staff, they realize, oh, I can bring up that weird and uncomfortable question and it doesn’t bother us,” says Baker. “To (us), it's a question we've heard or a topic that we've talked about ten times the same day (and now) we're just really trying to get that vibe and that comfort level and that experience online.”
It’s a process they began before the pandemic when they 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. But it was accelerated by COVID-19.
Baker says they were fortunate in that they were able to build a foundation around digital presence before the pandemic. “Kathy and I are, I guess, of the age group where we're a bit challenged in the social media and some of the website stuff,” she says. “But just the process of applying all those webinars… there is tons of good information in there and a lot of it was applicable to us.”
Since enrolling in the program and receiving the $2,500 Digital Transformation Grant, Baker says the shop’s website has drastically improved. They’ve seen an obvious uptick in sales as a result of the pandemic but they’re also seeing improved engagement.
Baker says they’re trying to keep that connection with customers by generating fresh content like blogs and social media posts. “Whether it's the pandemic or not, it’s brought a lot more people to our website so now I feel that they know we're there,” she says. “We're really trying with our group social media and our blogs now and the emails to give more of a similar in-store experience.”
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.