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Talking Sustainability Webinar Episode #1

How to thrive through tough times: 3 tips from a small business owner

2021 brought about many new and exciting things, one of them being our new webinar series, Talking Sustainability! Here, we chat with business owners and industry experts about their views on sustainability and how they have integrated it into their business models.  

Our most recent episode featured Kelly Wang, founder of Brooklyn-based sustainable collective, market place and concept closet, Rue Saint Paul. Here, owner and founder Kelly Wang connects ethically conscious designers with the community, with the intention to help reduce the fashion industry’s environmental footprint, support innovative designers and promote a circular consumption.  

The COVID-19 outbreak impacted almost all elements of our lives, both personal and professional. It has influenced the way we relate to people, our finances, our approach to our health, risk management, supply-chains, customer engagement and so much more. In fact, studies show, we are currently undergoing one of the most significant historical changes in the last 100 years. Many dynamics have shifted, giving way to new trends – some of which are temporary (we hope!) and others which are likely to be permanent.    

Get this! In New York, 77% of small businesses reported a decrease in revenues or sales at the end of April 2020, with over a year of turmoil yet to come.  As a new business, opening only 5 weeks before the covid-19 pandemic locked New York down, Kelly discusses the ways in which she adapted her business to survive the pandemic. Her resilience and ability to navigate a changing environment are truly astounding! She left us with three pearls of wisdom that not only kept her business afloat but led her to thrive through turbulent times.   

Tip 1: Embrace Technology 

Over the past year and a half, technology has played a vital role in our lives. Keeping us connected when physical interaction was not an option and allowing us to continue about our business (whether it was school or work) remotely. Covid-19 emphasized how important technology is to keep our economy running and presented several opportunities for businesses to readjust their model to new circumstances.  This left room for creativity and innovation especially for smaller businesses, which started offering all things virtual like wine tasting, exhibitions, concerts and shopping experiences.  

Kelly, for example, offered clients virtual try-ons, so they could experience a closer shopping experience than scrolling through an e-commerce site could give. 

“For the three months that we were closed we had to do everything online. […] We started to do some try-ons at the shop, so we did try-ons for our customers” – Kelly Wang, Rue Saint Paul  

Another example of innovative digital solutions to keep companies going was virtual wine tastings. For many (much like clothing) wine is something they prefer trying before buying, to see if it fits their needs. As such, many vineyards, like Enriquez Estate Wines began offering their customers virtual wine tastings. They offered Virtual Holiday Party Packs and many other options to keep their customers wining and dining, even from afar.  

Tip 2: Show you Care 

With COVID-19 came the threat of illness from close proximity to others. This created a wave of trust-based consumerism. Decisions were based on how likely a business is to interact with their customers safely and respectfully, demonstrating they will go out of their way to serve their needs. Actions like #SupportyourLocal emphasized people’s increased willingness to help local businesses. Local businesses reciprocated by creating ways for their customers to stay in touch with their loved ones from afar.  

“We got a little creative in shipping out some “care boxes”; people could pick a number of presents, pieces from the shop, we would package them up in cute little care boxes and send them to a friend or loved one across the country during those months that we weren’t allowed to see anyone.” – Kelly Wang 

Much like Kelly, many other companies created ways for their customers to spread the love. Uncommon Goods, a Brookly-based marketplace that connects makers with shoppers directly began creating packages such as their “stocking stuffers for self-care”. Likewise, Greetabl, allows you to send unique and customized gifts to coworkers and loved ones.    

Tip 3: Stay Connected    

This past year and a half have demonstrated the importance of community and the incredible value that small businesses bring to the table. Technology has and will drive innovation across business models and allow new businesses to enter the market. However, social and market trends have also demonstrated a demand for the flexibility small businesses have in adapting to changing circumstances. Not to mention, the service and care that customers feel when frequenting local businesses has become a tipping point.   

Many businesses put effort into creating community platforms for their customers and ways to connect with them on a personal level.  

“It was little things like that, finding ways to engage with our community over Zoom, private shopping appointments, using more basic technology to connect. That got us through the three months and a lot of those things have stuck with us.” – Kelly Wang 

Enterprises such as Cozy Meal and Houseparty gained in popularity during this period for their ability to connect people and offer online experiences. Some businesses were even created to help professionals find opportunities and share their expertise with people who were housebound due to lockdowns or quarantines. A prime example being, The Supper Share were created for sommeliers, chefs and restauranteurs share their talents virtually.  

“The growing significance of communities is not new, but past months emphasized their impact and underlined this importance. For companies, it might be an important step to understand with which kind of communities they are actually interacting”    Deloitte 

If Covid-19 has taught us anything, that is to adapt to a changing world and find creative ways to interact with people remotely. Some changes were temporary, like online primary education, but others are here to stay, like working remotely and technology-based business practices. 

Hopefully we will see the end of the pandemic soon, but technology has become a vital part of our daily lives, and won’t cease to reign once covid throws in the hat. As a technology company ourselves, we’ve seen the demand and the environmental need to make this transition – from paper to digital (in our case, digital receipts!). Now it’s time for small business owners to ride the technology wave too.  

“Now we love to do try-ons still, on Instagram, for people, we do some shopping appointments every once in a while. So it’s always interesting to see how sometimes the worst of something can manifest into something else. “       – Kelly Wang 

Watch the whole interview with Kelly Wang here or below.

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