Kingsville clothing shop Towne Emporium uses pandemic to pursue digital avenues
When COVID-19 forced family-run clothing store Towne Emporium in Kingsville to shut its doors for two months, Kristen Proctor, saw it as an opportunity.
“I worked my butt off… I actually worked more during COVID than I did before, ” says Proctor, who took over the family business as store manager a few years ago. She’d slowly been introducing more of a digital presence over the past years but the pandemic inadvertently gifted her an opportunity to focus on those digital elements. “I was committed to making this switch.”
Towne Emporium, which sells men and women fashion, was launched by Proctor’s mother and sister in 2015. At the time, Proctor had started her own family in Banff but three years ago, she made the decision to move back to Ontario and take over the day-to-day operations of the shop in Kingsville.
One of the first things she did was set up a basic website and start to build out the business’ social media. As her duties grew and her sister moved to Michigan, those digital elements got pushed to the wayside.
Last year, as she was in the midst of researching how to adopt a point-of-sale system that would link directly with the website, she 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.
“It's hard to make the step financially and when they offered that program, I was like, oh my gosh, this is too good to be true… it was perfect timing,” says Proctor. She applied for the $2,500 Digital Transformation Grant and received it. In the midst of making the switch, the pandemic hit and all of a sudden Proctor seemed to have more time than before to explore digital avenues.
The POS system was her focus but she also introduced a loyalty program, something she’d wanted to develop for a while but hadn’t had the time to.
“I like to be part of loyalty programs, I think it just makes you feel like a little more connected to that business… it makes you want to go back and it creates some excitement with your purchases,” says Proctor. “I just wanted to have that type of connection with our customers.”
She admits digital adoption is still an experiment, one she’s trying to get better at. “One of the webinars actually provided us with the checklist – a social media (cheat sheet) that prioritized your week and what it should look like and how you should post,” she says. “So I have a lot of tools that I do need to continue to follow up on just to improve the efficiency of all the new things we have going on… (but) it's good to see all that hard work and extra hours paying off.”
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.