By Gord McIntosh
Everleigh Garden is an inviting shop full of beautiful gifts in a touristy section of Barrie. But husband and wife team Ryan Primmett and Sunny Jung have discovered that great sidewalk appeal isn’t the only way to draw customers.
Thanks to Ontario’s Digital Main Street program, they are discovering that clicks can mix with bricks nicely. A Digital Transformation Grant from this program is enabling the couple to take their in-store flare online.
Digital Main Street is funded by the provincial government and delivered in partnership with the Ontario BIA Association. Based on a successful pilot project by the Toronto BIA Association to help main street businesses adapt to the digital age, the program now applies to all of Ontario.
An emerging hip downtown.
Like many growing Toronto satellite cities, Barrie straddles a small townish feel and an emerging hip downtown. In these merging cultures, Everleigh Garden taps into the energetic vibe of new Barrie by offering high-quality giftware with cool and modern flare.
Now in its second year, Everleigh Garden is Ryan and Sunny’s first retail venture.
They had been living in Newmarket. But as the housing boom of the Greater Toronto Area continued north to Barrie, they decided to follow it and open a store of walk-in elegance and eye candy appeal, full of carefully curated items from 50 to 60 handpicked suppliers.
“Young people love our stuff,” Ryan says. “It’s my wife’s store – it’s been her passion to run one, and our kids were old enough. The store took on a life of its own. Our lifestyle is modern and minimal. The store represents what we have and love in our life.”
Even the storefront stands out as a local landmark, and the customers come from well beyond the neighbourhood.
“We’re in a bit of a touristy spot, and people are coming up to scope out Barrie to see if they’d like to move here,” says Ryan. “So, we have a far-reaching customer base. People call us from everywhere to buy products that they saw on a visit.”
But a fast-growing community means city infrastructure needs to be updated. It wasn’t long before Ryan and Sunny got news of something that is normally a main street merchant’s worst nightmare. The street in front of the store was being torn up for a year.
They had been thinking about e-commerce anyway, said Ryan. “I’m already warehousing all this inventory. So why wouldn’t I sell online.”
But the sudden need to replace walk-in traffic focused their thinking. They plunged into digital with the help of Digital Main Street.
Torn up street or not, Sunny and Ryan also realized they were in the midst of a retail “click and brick” revolution. “Customers find things they like online. But they still want to come into the store and buy it,” said Ryan.
In fact, Ryan and Sunny are seeing a new type of in-store customer — people who say something like, ‘Hey, I was on your website. I had no idea you had Sloane Tea.’
And therein lies an important learning for a main street retailer, according to Ryan. “If you don’t have that online presence, you’re missing out on an important new group of customers.”
That’s where the Digital Main Street’s free training opened their eyes and gave them new ideas for boosting sales and building their brand. “The training was more valuable than the (grant) money,” said Ryan.
Digital transformation goes beyond setting up a spiffy new website.
They also learned that digital transformation goes beyond setting up a spiffy new website. There is also digital inventory management, for instance, to improve turnover and eliminate cumbersome manual methods.
Digital inventory management also makes it much easier to showcase products online. Every product offered on the site needs a snappy and user-friendly prose description.
Product photos also need to be carefully cropped and sized. For Everleigh Garden, that means 530 descriptions for its product line-up and three different images for each. And this is just what the online visitor sees.
On the back end, there is search engine optimization and keywords so that their products will pop up on a searcher’s screen. That could mean as many as 30 keywords for every product.
Digital technology will certainly help to grow retail businesses. With Digital Main Street, that means taking advantage of digital skills training for owners and managers and grants to help them execute.
Start at digitalmainstreet.ca. Think of it as the gateway to future success.