For several Farmington businesses that pride themselves on expert customer service, surviving the COVID-19 pandemic has required some major adjustments.
Clothes Encounters, which has been a part of the downtown Farmington retail landscape for 33 years, specializes in women’s fashion. Right before COVID hit in March, owner Larry Sallen and buyer Stacy Wallach had just returned from a large buying trip and looked forward to sharing spring fashions with their customers.
When Michigan’s “Stay Home. Stay Safe.” order closed them down in March, they shifted to online sales through their Facebook page. Fortunately, their customers were still eager to shop with them.
“The support was amazing and our customer base stepped up,” Sallen said. “The DDA (Downtown Development Authority) also set up some promotions like ‘Ladies Night In’, which was a huge success for us as well as other businesses. In a strange sort of way, the business community has come together as a result of us all being in the same boat.”
Sallen said his biggest challenges have been inventory adjustments as European clothing factories have shut down and making sure customers feel safe and at ease.
“We consistently maintain cleanliness and adhere to all social distancing and mask requirements,” he said.
As the holidays approach, Sallen said he feels a change coming. Still, he remains confident the business will pull through with ongoing sales, giveaways, new merchandise, and gift card sales.
“This recent order in November seems a bit more concerning,” he said. “Maybe it’s the weather, time of year or just pandemic fatigue. We just have to make adjustments as business moves forward. There is no manual for this one!”
Business model shifts
Kendra Mantey, owner of The Cheese Lady in downtown Farmington, says COVID-19 safety measures have flipped her business model on its head.
“Our whole business model was tastings, and we haven’t been able to do that since the first executive order,” Mantey said. “You can’t do tastings in a pandemic. When people have to remove masks to taste and be fairly close to employees, we can’t follow safety guidelines.”
Customers initially found the adjustment difficult, because they loved sampling. But everyone has adjusted really well, Mantey said. “We’ve made some great connections while educating our customers in their selection process.”
Prior to COVID, The Cheese Lady had been experiencing a slow, steady growth with wine and cheese tasting events, cheese trays and platters, lunchtime grilled cheese specials, retail offerings, events and more. Mantey said the bottom dropped out for a couple months, but the team rallied pretty quickly with “Curdside Pickup”, which went great for about 10 weeks.
Mantey said the shop is getting more calls for quick pickups as COVID cases rise.
“We know the holidays will be different this year,” she said. “To meet these various requests, we will be adding an album of available trays on our Facebook page soon. We are so fortunate to have amazing support and receive so much love on Facebook especially.”
New business, new approach
Care By Design Market moved into downtown Farmington’s Village Commons shopping center in July of 2019. The store’s growth has tracked with the CBD industry driving interest and education in their store.
When COVID closed their doors, owner Annette Compo said, they lost in-person education and tours of their selections that couldn’t be replicated online. She took the challenge and created an opportunity, adapting to client needs and adjusting her business model to meet them.
“We have about a 98% return rate with our client base,” Compo said. “Our products are high priority for our clients, for managing pain, anxiety, immunity, rest, and overall wellness – especially during COVID, when many conditions are worsened and susceptibility to infection increases.”
Care By Design immediately began offering curbside pickup, delivery within about a 20-minute radius of the store, and a revamped website. They have fielded more phone calls from people wanting to learn more about CBD products and their benefits.
While still offering online service, the spacious boutique style space is open with personal protection equipment and a strict schedule of deep cleanings and daily maintenance. Also, Compo said, Care By Design has developed new products and shifted manufacturing to give their clients better support as they manage the effects of the pandemic.
“We were proud to roll out specific products for the effects of the pandemic,” Compo said. “Our Lifeline Brand tinctures were created to address many of the rising conditions related to the pandemic. With blends to address anxiety, pain, sleep issues, focus, and overall wellness, we are able to deliver all the benefits of CBD – overall immunity, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, improved blood flow, and more – while also targeting specific conditions with precision.”
The business recently launched a Festival of Trees fundraiser, raffling off several holiday trees and prizes with proceeds benefitting C.A.R.E.S. of Farmington Hills and the LSSU Foundation of Lake Superior State University. Tickets can be purchased online or at their stores.