Many of our stores are closed at the moment, causing an unplanned separation from our staff and our customers.  Orange Tree Imports celebrated its 45th anniversary on May 1, which normally would be cause for an open house, special offers, refreshments, and a staff reunion for the 250 or so people who have worked for us over the years.  We keep in touch with many of them through a closed Facebook alum group, but we love having our former employees make the trip to Madison, WI to see each other again.

This year’s celebration was very different due to the shelter-in-place order that has kept our doors closed since mid-March.  We know that our employees miss seeing each other, and serving our customers.  So last Friday we planned a little parade, with staff members driving past the store following a vintage Camaro convertible.  There was a DJ playing lively music, amazing balloon art, distance photo portraits, and goody bags containing locally-made hand sanitizer as well as a treat from a Monroe Street bakery.  The event was featured on the local news, and a video was created for us by a drone photographer.   

I had tears in my eyes when I saw the smiling faces of our employees as they drove by. They were all wearing matching t-shirts I’d created for the occasion, and many had decorated their cars. As they passed the store, where my husband Dean and I stood waiting, they honked their horns, waved, and shouted their greetings.  I’d kept the celebration a secret from Dean, who is the co-owner of the store.  It was nice to be able to surprise him, since we’re now together almost 24/7.

The photos and video of the event allowed us to share it with our customers via social media, and we used the occasion to announce the start of our limited curbside pickup.  Keeping in touch with both your staff and your customer base during this time of separation is important for your store’s recovery once the danger of the pandemic has lessened.

How can you stay connected?  Some stores that are selling online or via FaceBook/Instagram are doing short videos tours of their stores, or showing new arrivals.  Others are doing personal shopping, working one-on-one with customers by phone or even using technology such as Skype.  Those who are not selling online can share the fact that they are closed for everyone’s safety – and determined to reopen when it’s possible to do so.  We did an at-home recipe sharing post on Facebook that attracted a lot of participation – can you find something pertinent to your product mix that would engage your customers?

Paula Flynn’s newsletter The Shopkeepers recently featured this quote from The Village Common Mercantile in Catskill, NY:  “We have uploaded a larger selection of our physical store to a page on our website that is currently only our own branded products. We are doing our best to stay connected with our customers through email and social media. By posting updates, scheduled content and personal messages. We are continuing with the rest of the months scheduled IG postings to give people a break from the influx of stressful news and covid updates! We are hoping to bring a smile and a breath of relief with some normalcy to our feed. The biggest thing we are doing right now is our Give Back Initiative. For the foreseeable future, Village Common will donate up tp 25% of our online sales to FEEDING AMERICA COVID-19 Relief efforts. So far we have raised over a $1,000 to donate to this cause.”

No matter what your message is, it’s important to stay in the public eye, and to stay connected with your employees, so that you can come back strong whenever it’s permissible to do so.

Happy Retailing, 

Carol “Orange” Schroeder

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