Given that Donna Rork launched her watersports company, Cottage Toys, in 1989 based on a business plan she wrote while studying marketing in college, she has weathered more than a few economic ups and downs. She credits her forward thinking and deep product knowledge with getting her through those economic cycles and with positioning her to adapt to COVID-19’s setbacks and opportunities.

She was an early enthusiast of what an online presence could do for her Lakefield and Peterborough stores. She had a website very early on and embraced e-commerce about 15 years ago. Indeed, she remembers her very first online transaction, the sale of a water trampoline while she and her husband were riding a ski lift in New Mexico. More recently, online revenues were starting to accelerate, tripling over the three years just prior to the pandemic.

Coming into 2020, though, she was increasingly aware that she had hit a wall with e-commerce. The process involved multiple steps, with all of them, from processing payments through PayPal to laboriously calculating shipping costs, requiring manual intervention. A wholesale upgrade of her digital toolbox was in order, and a Digital Transformation Grant was the catalyst for doing so.

Her e-commerce capability was fully ported to Shopify and, with all the added tools and applications of the Shopify platform, everything was streamlined, from adding inventory to processing payments to automatically organizing shipping and calculating costs. Online revenues increased almost five-fold over the past year, now accounting for just less than half of all revenue in a year that saw in-store sales also soar when lockdowns were lifted.

The exploding demand during the pandemic for anything to do with outdoor activity most definitely fueled this growth for Cottage Toys, but it was a demand that never could have been managed without the major e-commerce upgrade. While the market remains red hot, Donna has seen enough economic cycles to know it won’t stay that way, and she is already looking ahead to what happens when things start to cool down.

Key among her strategies to maintain growth levels is making the most of the geographic market expansion her supercharged digital presence has brought her, with sales now happening virtually from coast to coast in Canada. Besides the email marketing and other tactics that she has always used, she is keen to understand the full capabilities of the new online environment in which she now operates.

Donna’s investments in e-commerce, expert understanding of the market and deep and varied inventory has positioned her for ongoing success. She has already begun investing her profits into the construction of a bigger store in Lakefield, confident that her future prosperity lies in connecting online and in-person service for the benefit of her operation and her customers

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