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Businesses report unexpected gains

Some retailers saw record sales post-lockdown, but with an unpredictable holiday season looming, not all are celebrating.
Sep 3, 2020 3:39 AM   By Lara Ewen
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Covid-19 hit retailers hard, with state-enforced closures impacting almost every business in the spring. However, by the beginning of August, most retailers had reopened to the public, albeit on a limited basis. Some stores found that pent-up demand led to unusually high sales figures for May, June and July, while other stores pointed out increased online sales. Yet as fall and the winter holidays loomed large on the horizon, no one was comfortable forecasting just how this unpredictable year might end.

The retail challenges brought on by state-mandated shutdowns have left some store owners feeling unsteady but ready to move on.

“This summer is obviously harder due to Covid-19, but we’re still hanging on and going strong,” said Charla M. Farley, manager of Baker & Baker Jewelers in Marietta, Ohio. “We sold many small items like Alex and Ani and Pura Vida on social media during the shutdown, which for Ohio was mid-March through the beginning of May.”

Farley said her biggest challenge was getting customers back to the store. “Many are still concerned with the virus,” she noted. “[They] call before coming, to make sure we’ll be wearing masks and have everything up to code. We’re getting more and more traffic each day, though.”

Moving online

For other retailers, the spring shutdown began a time of increased online activity, which continued into the summer.

“At the beginning of the shutdown, people would approach me online and ask for help, and I would go to the post office in my mask and gloves and ship things,” said Eve Alfillé, owner of Eve J. Alfillé Gallery and Studio in Evanston, Illinois, whose business reopened on June 10. “And we’ve ramped up our Instagram, because we’re always hoping to get a younger clientele, since a lot of our clients are 60 and older.”

Alfillé is also considering new online sales strategies. “Normally twice a year, we have a new series out, and we have a festive opening, but I don’t think we’re going to do that [this year],” she said. “I’m thinking of an auction format for new works. There’s a lot of gamification [using game elements in shopping], and if I can tap into that and make it competitive, that would create interest.”

Almost like Christmas

Other stores have found unexpectedly positive returns since reopening.

“It’s been crazy,” said Mike Lordo, president of Lordo’s Diamonds in the St. Louis suburb of Ladue, Missouri. “It’s not quite as good as Christmas, but not far off.”

Lordo enjoyed a record May and June. “A lot of people haven’t gone anywhere, so their vacations have all been canceled. And going out is canceled. So all these things that people would do during the summer, they haven’t been doing. So they have extra cash.”

Although his store had to close for seven weeks due to Covid-19, he said engagement rings were selling particularly well. “A lot of kids have been waiting to get engaged,” he stated. “Sometimes product is a little hard to get, though. Not diamonds, but rings.”

More cautious than optimistic

As usual, store owners are cautiously optimistic, although perhaps a little more cautious than optimistic these days. “I’m clueless what the rest of the year will hold,” said Farley. “If I had to guess, I think [holiday activity] will be more online and texting with customers than in the past, but we’re ready for whatever is next.”

For Lordo, whose sales have been skyrocketing, the outlook is more enthusiastic. “I’m optimistic at this point, only because of the way it’s been. As long as we don’t have to close again, we’ll have a fabulous year. We were closed almost two months, and we’re way above last year. It’s surpassed what I was even thinking. I thought we’d be busy, but nowhere near this.”

Yet Alfillé said the rest of the year looked more like a moving target than a pot of gold. “Local schools are not going to have children go in person, which means people aren’t going back to work, which makes the picture not terribly lively,” she said. “We’ll continue to limp along, and luckily we have a client base who thinks of us.”

The holidays, though, may not be bright. “Christmas isn’t what it used to be,” she lamented. “Christmas is okay, but spring is much bigger, because anyone who got married in June has an anniversary. So I look forward to spring.”
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