When the first COVID-19 lockdowns were imposed in Spring 2020, Laura Ponka’s first action was to amalgamate the physical operations of her two Thunder Bay businesses, Portobello Homes, a furniture store, and Hygge Loft, which sells smaller houseware items. Between the need to reduce her cost base and the challenges maintaining staffing levels, it was the wisest thing to do.

Her second action was to go digital.

Laura used her Digital Transformation Grant to buy an iPad and a point-of-sale system. In a second phase, she added a laptop and built a complete e-commerce site for Hygge Loft. She reasoned that of her two operations, Hygge Loft, with its smaller and easier-to ship items, was the more obvious candidate for online sales given that people were unlikely to order large furniture items online, to say nothing of the logistics associated with delivering them.

It all proved to be the most sensible approach. With people unable to travel and keen to improve the comfort of their homes, furniture sales exploded and revenues at Portobello Homes doubled on a year over-year basis even despite lockdowns.

Meanwhile, online sales of the small accessories offered by Hygge Loft, designed to turn a house into a happy home, added a further 20 percent lift to overall revenues. Further, the cross-pollination between what had previously been two completely distinct operations proved to be fruitful. Customers coming to shop, in-person or online, for one category of goods would find things they liked within the other category.

The same cross-pollination is also happening between online and in-person sales. The displays of new linens, or home decorations, or any of the other housewares Hygge sells, kept her customers engaged while they planned how they could use them to add little touches to their living space. “Even so,” said Laura, “they couldn’t wait to come into the store.” The daily checking of how well her store was performing online also kept her and her team motivated during a time when they were missing the in-person contact retailers thrive on.

Laura is now committed to making the most of the potential that a solid digital presence can bring to a brick-and-mortar location. She is working at getting the furniture store online, which necessitates moving to more efficient, automated processes for shipping. While she has done some e-marketing, mainly using Instagram, she now recognizes that more is required, and will be looking for qualified staff who can manage that.

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