Thunder Bay’s Mars Clothing Co. sees a paradigm shift in digital mindset
Sales are down for Thunder Bay’s Mars Clothing Co. and the world is still living through a global pandemic, but all things considered, store owner James Nigro is feeling pretty good.
“At first I was kind of stressed out… to say it conservatively but honestly, now I’m embracing it – I really like this whole digital aspect,” says Nigro. “This is kind of the best-case scenario for me… I feel like I have forced time off to focus on my website.”
The Mars Clothing Co. owner says he’s always been big into technology and websites, but the current scenario has set him up nicely to merge that interest with what he’s been doing over the last nine years through his clothing shop. And part of that is a change in attitudes surrounding online shopping.
“From the beginning of shutdown to now my attitude has completely changed… I'm so much more hopeful now about everything,” he says. “I feel like even people like my parents who normally wouldn't shop online are shopping online now. It's like you're being forced to just get into the groove of it and realize it's not that scary, that your information's not going to get stolen.”
It's a very different world than the one, Nigro opened Mars Clothing co. in. At the time, downtown Thunder Bay was far from bustling (it's since seen a spike in new businesses, revitalizing main street). He started with men's clothing before adding women's clothing into the fold. He built an online catalogue and has been slowly amping up his digital presence.
Recently, he heard about the Digital Main Street 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. It proved vital as he was looking to transition his point-of-sale system to something that would better integrate between his online Shopify store and in-store sales.
He applied for the $2,500 Digital Transformation Grant and received it. “(The grant) gave me that comfort of knowing that I had this money set aside that I didn't have to stress out about, that I could use towards switching platforms,” he says. “Because I knew it was going to take weeks for me to upload all the products and make it look the way I wanted it to.”
Since focusing his digital efforts, Nigro has started to realize the nuances and advantages of selling online, especially when it comes to connecting with customers. “New customers are asking more questions through our chatbot feature,” says the Mars Clothing Co. owner. It’s a stark contrast to the in-store experience (the “weird dance” Nigro calls it), of trying to let your customers browse without bugging them while also being available. “I feel like when people are (shopping online) in the comfort of their home, they'll ask me anything and I think that's very valuable right now for me.
In fact, Nigro says he sees it as a new paradigm for retail in general. “I can see the potential when we open back up… I mean, people are already used to shopping on our website and so I can only see this being a good thing for everybody in the end.”
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.