Central Huron artisan boutique owner uses Digital Main Street program to boost online marketing and attract shoppers through the storefront door.

Crystal McMaster is no stranger to entrepreneurship. She has been handcrafting and selling her collections of custom jewellery at festivals and through local retailers across Southern Ontario since 2005. But it wasn’t until a trip through the small town of Clinton in the municipality of Central Huron that she found a whole new opportunity that she just couldn’t pass up.

Like many communities across the province, Clinton had experienced a decline of its commercial district that left it with a growing number of empty storefronts. In response, the Central Huron BIA launched a Win This Space contest in March 2019. The winner would win free rent in which to launch a new business for one year.

Crystal entered and won. But the contest was so well received and supported it was expanded. By the fall, 11 new businesses had opened in Clinton. Crystal’s business is Mama & Me – an artisan gift boutique named in honour of her mother who passed away in 2019 from breast cancer. Mama & Me showcases the work of 30 local artists, including jewellery, pottery, photography, clean beauty, as well as eco items and baby products.

Free commercial space and the publicity boost of being part of community revitalization project that has drawn lots of media attention have obviously helped with Crystal’s launch. Still, she has found herself faced with three key challenges:
• Being a new business without an established clientele.
• Having a name that leads many people to assume she is a baby boutique.
• Clinton’s continued lack of organic street traffic – the town is close to the summer tourism areas of Lake Huron, with a lot of traffic that zips by on Highway 4. The trick is to draw those people in.

For the first time in her business life, Crystal found herself having to make more effective use of social media and online marketing to drive awareness and draw customers.

“Marketing is not something that comes naturally to me,” she said. “I didn’t have any online marketing experience. With my jewellery business I was always very hands-on – I would just walk into a store and talk to the owner about carrying my products.”

Crystal knew that customers could be brought to Clinton throughout the year if she could get the word out, not just for Mama & Me Artisan Boutique, but for all of the local businesses.

“I never see another business as competition,” she said. “We are all offering something unique. I believe in cooperation, not competition, to make Clinton a bigger draw as a destination for those day trippers.”

As part of Central Huron’s Win This Space contest, entrepreneurs like Crystal were given front row access through the BIA to the Digital Main Street Digital Transformation grant program. Through the program, qualifying businesses can receive a grant of up to $2,500 to support their digital marketing efforts. In addition to the grant, Digital Main Street offers the knowledge and insight to use these funds effectively, with free educational resources and a squad of advisors.

“The workshops and the roster of speakers was incredible,” Crystal said. “They were really hands-on and spoke in layman’s terms that were easily understood. For example, search engine optimization – I had taken SEO courses before that just left me feeling more confused. And Digital Main Street makes it easy to take advantage of these resources in the way that works best for you – whether that is in-person or with online learning.”

Crystal did apply for and secured a Digital Transformation Grant. More importantly, she gained the insight and support to develop a concrete implementation plan for 2020, with defined activities and milestones. These include:
• Dedicated Facebook and Google advertising campaigns.
• Develop and launch early in 2020 a new website with an e-commerce component, to showcase her inventory with strong visuals and make it clear that Mama & Me is not a baby boutique.
• Continue to sharpen her digital marketing skills through online and in-person courses.
• Invest in a modern, digital point-of-sale platform.
• Lever email marketing to create a community and drive repeat business.

All of this is intended to increase web traffic and online sales as well as bring more people through her actual door.

“Having the support and the resources of Digital Main Street to develop a solid plan gives you an anchor,” Crystal said. “There will of course be things that don’t go according to plan, but I have learned that the key is to be flexible. What’s important is that you have set targets and you keep working toward them.”

Crystal’s story is just one example of how more than 2,000 main street small businesses across Ontario took advantage of Digital Main Street’s Training and Grants program. The Digital Transformation Grant is no longer available (ended December 31, 2019), though you can still access Digital Main Street’s complimentary digital assessments, virtual training and in-person workshops: https://digitalmainstreet.ca/ontario/ 

Watch this testimonial of how Digital Main Street’s resources helped a storefront small business boost their digital performance and overall business growth.

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