READER NOTE: Since November 2020, we have been following the journeys of several Ontario main street businesses as they evolve their digital presence with the Digital Transformation Grant (DTG) that each received through the Digital Main Street (DMS) program.
DMS – currently funded by the Federal Economic Development Agency of Southern Ontario and the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade – provides small businesses across the province with training, grants and resources to adopt digital tools and technologies that will build business resiliency.
In this final installment of a three-part series, we catch up with Gadabout Vintage on Toronto’s Queen Street East, in mid-March.
“I have embraced e-commerce,” said Victoria Dinnick, owner of Gadabout Vintage. “I love it.”
This is a sharp turnaround from where Victoria was last summer, when her store lacked any e-commerce capability at all. As we covered in previous installments, Gadabout is not the kind of store that easily lends itself to e-commerce. Most of its inventory is unique, one-of-a-kind items.
Gadabout is one of those eclectic places where there is always some new old thing to discover. Curios, nostalgia and ephemera cram every corner on two floors. Vintage posters, tons of fabulous vintage clothing and racks of accessories fight for space with amazing textiles and other vintage items.
Throughout the pandemic, Gadabout has been limited to curbside pickup and no more than four customers in-store at a time. Victoria’s saving grace has been her popularity with Toronto’s large film and television production industry, where prop and costume departments frequently buy or rent large numbers of items.
The challenge has been to build Gadabout’s online presence. Since last summer, Victoria has worked with Digital Main Street and her local Digital Service Squad for the practical advice and resources to build an e-commerce storefront that makes sense for her kind of business and to make more effective use of Instagram and search engine optimization (SEO) to reach potential customers around the globe.
During shutdowns, Victoria has taken advantage of the down time and kept her staff busy with writing descriptions and posting unique items for online sale. It’s a long, labour-intensive process given there is usually only one or a few of each item to sell. By focusing on rare and high-value vintage items that were too fragile to put out on the floor for shoppers to handle, Victoria has been able to reap a huge return on the investment in recent months.
“Some of the things I have are as rare as hens’ teeth,” she said.
A prime example is vintage Chinese silks, which have attracted buyers from China eager to repatriate these stunning creations. Before the pandemic, these fragile items would have only been exhibited for sale at one or two local shows a year to avoid damage.
“E-commerce is opening us to new markets,” Victoria said. “I never thought it could be this good. It’s very rewarding.”
Her web analytics say it all. Instagram traffic continues to surge without the need to buy ads. She has attracted thousands of new web visitors since mid-January.
Victoria’s bounce rate – the percentage of online visitors who leave her website without staying to view any pages – continues to decrease. For most businesses, a bounce rate of under 40 per cent is considered good. Victoria’s is down to a mere 2.56 per cent. When visitors come to her website they stay – for almost four minutes on average. This demonstrates that her online marketing efforts and her use of keywords for web search are accurately matching customer expectations with what she has to offer.
“I am having a lot of fun with this, I never thought I would, but I am,” Victoria said. “If we face another lockdown, we will just keep uploading inventory.”
And she couldn’t have done it without those “gurus” on her local DMS Digital Service Squad, Lorenzo Gonzalez and Emily Hines.
“I had no concept when I started that any of this would be possible, but thanks to DMS, I got everything I wanted – talk about amazing,” Victoria said. ““If DMS is going to be offering any other grants, sign me up. It takes work to build an online business, but I am having fun with the work now.”
Victoria’s story is just one example of how main street small businesses across Ontario have taken advantage of the Digital Main Street Ontario Initiative.
For more information, go to www.digitalmainstreet.ca
The Digital Main Street program has been further extended through funding from FedDev Ontario and the Ontario Ministry for Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade (MEDJCT). The new round of funding includes $42.5 million from the Government of Canada’s Regional Relief and Recovery Fund, a national recovery initiative delivered by Canada’s regional development agencies. With $7.45 million from Ontario, this combined federal and provincial project will strengthen Ontario’s economic capacity for innovation, entrepreneurship and collaboration, and will promote the development of a strong and diversified Ontario economy. For more information, please visit digitalmainstreet.ca/ontariogrants