READER NOTE: Over the next several months, we will follow the progress of a number of Ontario main street businesses as they evolve their digital presence with the Digital Transformation Grant (DTG) that each has received through the Digital Main Street, or DMS, program.
Digital Main Street is a program, currently funded in Ontario by the Federal Economic Development Agency of Southern Ontario and the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade, that provides small businesses with training, grants and resources to adopt digital tools and technologies in order to build business resiliency.
In this story, we feature Gadabout Vintage on Toronto’s Queen Street East.
Gadabout is one of those eclectic places where you can lose yourself for hours. Curios, nostalgia and ephemera cram every corner on two floors. Oodles of paper, incredible vintage posters, tons of fabulous vintage clothing and accessories fight for space with amazing textiles and even vintage housewares.
Since Victoria Dinnick founded the business on Queen Street East in 1997, it’s also become a well-known haunt for wardrobe, prop and set decorators for film and theatre production. Renting stock for stage and screen is a big part of Victoria’s business.
Having previously worked in corporate communications, Victoria always understood the value of marketing. Gadabout had its own website from the very start. But a lot has changed over the past 23 years. Static display sites, no matter how enticing to the eye, just don’t cut it anymore in the age of e-commerce.
Victoria, like many small business owners, thought about redeveloping her website to add an e-commerce storefront, but with so many other things to do, she just never got around to it.
Pandemic leads to three-month closure
When the pandemic struck, Victoria found herself shut down for three months. Thankfully, 2019 had been a banner year. The profits which she had banked allowed her to keep the lights on and her staff on the payroll.
Even with this cushion, it was obvious that she needed to re-evaluate how she operated. Victoria took advantage of every possible benefit that became available to a small business. This included the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, a loan from her bank, and a program that she hadn’t paid much attention to before – Digital Main Street.
“I was just applying for everything – I knew I was going to need it,” she said. “DMS sounded interesting because it was linked to e-commerce.”
As part of the qualification process for DMS, applicants must complete mandatory training sessions which include a series of educational videos.
“You think you don’t want to watch them, but the more I watched them, the more notes I took and realized how many things I didn’t know,” Victoria said.
Digital Service Squad to the rescue
In many communities where it operates, DMS engages with business owners through local Digital Service Squads. These teams of digital experts help business owners navigate the program and also perform free website audits.
With the help of her local squad member, Lorenzo, Victoria could make informed decisions about how best to add an e-commerce storefront to her business. When funding for DMS renewed in June 2020, Lorenzo helped Victoria apply for and secure a grant which she then used to hire a web designer. Lorenzo worked with the web designer to arrive at the best design for a new site that would integrate an online storefront.
Victoria launched the new www.gadaboutvintage.com just after Labour Day, complete with Google Analytics to help her understand what brings visitors to the site. Through DMS, Victoria and her team have also become savvy WordPress users to keep the website updated, and social media marketers to make the best use of Instagram to attract visitors.
With the online storefront, customers can now browse and place a hold on an item which they can collect later with curbside pickup. This is critical to the continuation of Victoria’s business. While her physical store has reopened with every safety measure in place, the number of customers allowed on the premises at the same time remains limited to a handful. That makes it hard to drive a sustainable level of in-store sales.
“It has been nothing but a positive experience working with the DMS team –they’re like my mentors and coaches,” Victoria said. “It’s great how local government, the BIAs and the federal and provincial governments are working together through this program to keep small businesses from going down.”
We will continue to chart Victoria’s progress in the coming months.
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 information and how to apply, go to www.digitalmainstreet.ca/ontariogrants