Did you think face-to-face business was pretty much done in Chattanooga? Think again.
In the eerily calm first days of the pandemic, Catharine Daniels closed her gift shop and art gallery on Frazier Avenue and wondered what the future held for Plum Nelly. The company, which turns 50 next year, has always relied on walk-in browsers looking for something unique, local and hand-picked.
âWe have a website, but we don’t have an active shopping cart,â Daniels says. “So much of what we carry, each piece is made differently, they are made by hand.”
The business was closed for a month in 2020, and had to make big adjustments to its operations once it reopened. Traffic was slow at first. But his clients have returned, new ones followed, and Daniels is more convinced than ever of the enduring value of the in-person experience.
âI think last year, aside from people trying to get toilet paper and paper towels on Amazon, people realized that the stores they were going to weren’t going to exist. ‘they weren’t hanging out with them,’ she said.
At the Tile Store and Scarlett’s Cabinetry just off Cherokee Boulevard, new habits have preserved the crucial in-person element of the design business and also made processes more efficient, says owner Jackie Howard.
âWe all got into the habit of meeting clients and taking samples of tiles and cabinet doors outside, and we encouraged our clients to bring more inspiring photos in advance,â says- she. “It’s really helped us in the long run because we’ve learned to be more productive.”
It took a long time to get back to business, but now it’s booming, she adds.
âThose first three months, people were scared,â Howard says. âThen people got tired and they were like ‘Oh my God, we’re going to go home, we have to renovate our house.'”
While staying at home has led to an increase in online shopping, the habit of spending in person is strong and growing, according to market data.
In 2021, U.S. consumers will spend more than $ 933 billion online, up nearly 18% year-over-year and accounting for up to 15% of total retail sales, according to data from marketer.
But while online spending is expected to exceed $ 1,000 billion in 2022, in-person sales in 2021 will amount to more than $ 5,000 billion. And in-person spending grew by more than 6% in 2021, which was the highest growth rate since 2011, according to emarketer.
Online shopping may take off, but people still want to browse, pick up, and check out the things they’re hoping to buy, Daniels says.
âWhen you come in, I’ll tell you about the artist you support,â she said. “We’ve come back to that need for connection, community and support that has always been there.”
And in an age of booming supply chains and delayed delivery, face-to-face transactions are attractive as the holidays weigh on buyers, Daniels adds.
Did you think the in-person business was pretty much done? Think again.
âPeople want bricks and mortar because they can walk through the door, pick something and hang out with it,â she says.
Plum Nelly’s business has almost recovered and has learned new tricks, adding social media promotions and more shipping options to weather the crisis, Daniels said.
âSocial media has been a dressing for us in so many ways,â she says. âWe ship a lot everywhere, and a lot of people contact me, so even in the modern age, you can have a personalized customer service experience with people who never come to your home. “
For High Point Climbing Gym, it wasn’t possible to release or bring it online when they closed in the spring of 2020. Their business just can’t be done, but in person, says the co-founder. Johnny O’Brien.
âOur buildings are built for one-time use, and a big part of our constructions are the climbing walls that we build in each gymnasium,â he says. “There’s no way to get the business out.”
High Point has six gyms in Tennessee and Alabama. They were closed for three months and things remained slow until 2021, says O’Brien.
âWhen we came back we were running at 50% and we had all kinds of restrictions on our operations, so we suffered significant losses until 2020,â he said.
Local lenders and paycheck protection program funds helped the company weather the worst, and climbers started to come back for good in the spring of 2021, he says.
âAround March, we saw the number start to return to normal, and from May to October, we represent about 95% of pre-pandemic income on a monthly basis,â O’Brien said. “Over the past six months we have seen a significant increase in traffic return to normal levels.”
The company spent some of the downtime downsizing, reviewing its operations and becoming more efficient, says O’Brien. Now that he’s back in expansion mode, High Point has yet another challenge, he says.
âOne thing that we do, like all other companies, is that we have recognized that we need to increase the benefits and the salary structure,â he says. “I think every business in every industry is experiencing a staff shortage.”
Endurance capacity in person
* U.S. consumers will spend $ 933 billion online in 2021, up nearly 18% year-over-year and accounting for 15% of total retail sales.
* Retail brick-and-mortar spending will increase by more than 6% in 2021, to just over $ 5,000 billion, the strongest growth since 2011.Source: marketer
At the Tile Store and Scarlett’s, family members have stepped in to help bolster staff as demand for their jobs grows and labor shortages persist, Howard says. Her adult son returned from Charlotte to Chattanooga and quit his job as an accountant to help his parents, she says, and two of her nephews joined the production workshop.
âHonestly, it’s increased directly since June 2020, and it’s been by far one of the busiest years of this year,â Howard said.
O’Brien tells a similar story about his business in person, predicting 2022 will be the best ever for High Point.
âWe are lucky, we have been blessed and we will come out stronger in the future,â he said. “We believe that after the last six months things are returning to somewhat normal levels.”
At Plum Nelly, Daniels anticipates a lively holiday season and plans a 50th anniversary celebration for 2022.
âGo through the door and give us your list and we’ll pack and ship it for you,â she said.
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