Heritage Co. opened in Kingsburg in 2018. Photo contributed.
Written by Breanna Hardy
Small business boutiques are feeling the weight of the fourth quarter during an already unpredictable year, but they’re going the extra mile to meet customers where they need to. A new way businesses accommodate customers during the pandemic? Personalized appointments.
Jean Fennacy, owner of Petunia’s Place children’s bookstore in Fresno, said that when people shop local, they’re supporting the community. Petunia’s Place is an independent bookstore that has been in Fresno for 40 years.
They currently operate at 20% capacity, which means only allowing five people in the store at a time. But it’s given her other opportunities to reach her customers.
They’ve started with a separate email account for online orders so it doesn’t conflict with their regular email account. Customers can request books if Petunia’s Place doesn’t already sell the book.
But for people who want to shop in person, Petunia’s Place is one of several small shops right now that offers phone appointments.
“We also do phone appointments with people to shop and go through what they’re looking for,” Fennacy said. “So many people are just so happy to be back in a bookstore.”
The perk of being an independent bookstore is going the extra mile to reach customers. Customers can call the bookstore and make suggestions for books to sell; if Petunia’s Place doesn’t sell it, they can find a way to make sure they will in the future.
“People could write us and tell us what they were looking for,” Fennacy said. “We help them identify what they’re looking for, or find out whether it’s available to be ordered by Christmas.”
The store also uses USPS Click-N-Ship, where customers can request to order a book through email. Then the bookstore takes a credit card over the phone and they print a USPS label to ship orders to the customer.
Fennacy said that people can support local stores by linking items through a blog post or social media account when recommending gift ideas.
“When you make a purchase at an independent store, you’re supporting the community,” Fennacy said.
Shopping small means investing in where you pay taxes, and Fennacy says it’s the opportunity to turn your community into what you want it to be.
Small shops are up against retail giants like Amazon, and Fennacy knows that. To keep money local, Petunia’s Place partners with bookshop.org and libro.fm, which both share profits with local bookstores.
“It’s an alternative to Amazon,” Fennacy said.
Bookshop.org offers an expanded gallery of books to purchase, and libro.fm is an alternative audiobook website and app for those looking for books at Petunia’s Place in the digital format.
The Foundry Collective, a boutique in Clovis, is also offering virtual appointments.
Through Facetime, customers can shop virtually, seeing the full scope of inventory. They can purchase over the phone and pick up orders curbside.
Karen Chisum, owner of both The Foundry Collective and The Foundry Cooperative in Old Town Clovis, said the last quarter of the year is the most important for retail revenue, but they’ve gotten creative to bring revenue in.
As a boutique, they’ve put more inventory online than usual throughout Covid-19, but not every item is shippable.
“It’s definitely been a change for us and taken some time to navigate,” Chisum said.
Customers can also shop through social media, where The Foundry posts current clothing, home decor and gift ideas. Customers can finish a transaction over the phone. Like Petunia’s Place, they can pick up curbside.
Chisum said that she and her team have been learning to be flexible, but their goal is always to accommodate the customer.
“We’ve mostly just figured out how to help our customers in a way that works for them,” she said. “Being that we don’t have a production team or a marketing team, we’ve kind of had to wear multiple hats in figuring all of that out.”
Keeping inventory well-stocked, while not having too much surplus, has been a challenge for small businesses during this time.
Amanda Carrasco, owner of Heritage Co., a boutique in Kingsburg, said that this year, offering virtual and in-person appointments has paid off. But even in March when fully online, their porch deliveries made sales grow, and Carrasco had fun doing it.
They’ve formed especially great relationships with their customers through both kinds of personalized appointments.
Carrasco said that a major change in their business included an increasing online presence and offering local deliveries.
Heritage Co. has offered porch delivery since March, and Carrasco says they make a point to say hi through customers’ doorbell cameras.
“We’re just trying to accommodate changes, and helping them to shop local,” Carrasco said.
Birthday gift drop offs have been popular, but for people who live out of state, they offer free nationwide delivery.
“Shipping costs have gone up, but it’s a cost we’ve absorbed,” she said.
For Carrasco, it’s more important to accommodate with the option of free shipping if it means people will shop local.
“It helps people to feel like they can support small businesses,” she said, and if shipping for free helps people shop small, she’s willing to offer it.
They’ve been open for only two years inside another store, and they’ve managed to grow even during the pandemic. On Sept. 12, Heritage Co. opened its own storefront on Draper Street in Kingsburg.
They’ve increased inventory and have seen the community rally around small businesses.
“I would say that 2020 has given us a renewed sense of community,” Carrasco said.
By offering in-person appointments, they’re able to personalize experiences for customers that they otherwise might not have tried. Heritage Co. pulls new arrivals in the customer’s size for customers who don’t feel safe shopping in a crowd, even at capped capacity.
“Our customers really rallied around us; I think if we hadn’t had that experience, I wouldn’t have known how important it is to have that person-to-person experience,” Carrasco said.
Even simpler ways of supporting small businesses include liking and sharing their social media posts, purchasing gift cards for friends and family, and staying loyal even if the same product on Amazon has faster shipping.
Carrasco has found a silver lining in the midst of the pandemic; she’s especially thankful for the way the Central Valley rallies around small businesses.
“It has given us opportunities that we wouldn’t have otherwise had,” Carrasco said. “We’re happy to be in business in the Valley, because it’s the best place for sure.”