Local Colour uses digital to help customers shop local
It feels weird to say aloud but Carol Wood has had a good November. Local Colour, her handmade crafts and art shop in the Grey Highlands community of Flesherton, wrapped up the best November since 2002 (she’s had the store since 1989) and December is already looking better than 2019. “Considering what kind of year we’re in, that is extraordinary,” says Wood. “I shouldn’t feel guilty, but I feel bad for other shops... it’s a terrible time for retail.”
But Wood knows it isn’t a fluke. The success has come from the careful implementation of a digital strategy, something she admits she dragged her heels on for years. “I don’t love computers,” says Wood. “Also, I’m kind of a techno moron, I really don’t get it – I don’t shop that way and I don’t have an aptitude or a fascination for it.”
And yet, ever since participating in Digital Main Street, a program combining grants and one-to-one support from the Province of Ontario and the Ontario BIA Association alongside partners like Google to help main street businesses strengthen their online capabilities and plan for the digital future, Wood has seen a spike in interest towards her shop in Flesherton.
“People have been saying ‘shop local’ for years – we all know we’re supposed to leave a smaller carbon footprint but do we actually do it?” says Wood. She suspects the pandemic has helped to elevate the concept.
“We’re in a touristy area, about 50 per cent of the people who own property in this municipality are weekenders – they see these cute little towns and they don’t want to see them empty,” says Wood. “Shop local is not just a hashtag anymore – people (want to) try and support these small businesses because (they) know they’re struggling.”
Being online makes it easier for them to do that, especially as physical locations are caught in that shifting tide of open and closed as the COVID-19 pandemic situation is constantly changing. Wood says she sources the products in the shop from 50 makers. Some of that falls under a consignment model. So all the hours she spends getting products photographed and uploaded to her online store filters out to other entrepreneurs.
Wood says although the help from the Digital Service Squad to get her social channels working was invaluable, the tablet she was able to purchase using some of the money from her Digital Transformation Grant was a turning point. “The biggest thing was to get the piece of technology where I could take my own photos,” says Wood. Just the ability to do that on her own without having to hire a photographer and shoot products in bursts allows her to stay current and keep the shop up-to-date.
Seeing the potential of that new digital identity – all the benefits of social media and e-commerce – has helped push her forward into the unknown.
“I've known for a long time, even before all of this crisis, this was something that needed to happen if I want Local Colour to be more viable,” says Wood. “My best years in this store were in the late nineties.” The pressures of online shopping and Amazon and Etsy have been mounting for some time.
“It was like watching the cod fishing industry collapse… there's nothing you can do about it – it’s shifting, it’s not good, it’s not bad, it just is,” says Wood. To her, there were two options: stand on the shore and say “I don't know how to make a living anymore” or change. “Now that I’m in the process of changing and really experiencing it, I have to say, I’m delighted… I thought it would be a lot slower as a process.”
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.
A $42.5-million investment from FedDev 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 in Southern Ontario.