Telling small business stories is different during COVID-19. We now talk about pivots in strategy. We’ve heard much about the rapid uptake of e-commerce. For Jeeta Bhalla, the owner of Unique Gems and Beauty Boutique, these phrases describe opportunities that came to her business in the form of too little, too late.
“It’s been a nightmare, I am barely surviving,” the entrepreneur said during a recent telephone interview. “I’m not allowed to see anybody due to full lockdown. It seems really unfair because our industry can meet all of the guidelines we need to stay safe. Personal services are one-on-one and there is only one person in my place with me. We have full PPE and there’s a full sheet of Plexiglas between me and the client with just space for their hands and nails.”
Like many micro-business owners, Bhalla is in an incredibly vulnerable spot as Mississauga settles into its second period of pandemic isolation. The manicures, pedicures, facials and other esthetic services she provides are not deemed essential. The jewelry, skin care products and clothing she sells to compliment her roster of specialized personal services are usually purchased by her beauty service customers. E-commerce just hasn’t been part of her business model and, for the last twenty years, it hasn’t had to be.
That is changing. Digital Main Street is helping Bhalla take her informational site and turn it into an e-commerce site.
Digital Main Street’s ShopHERE Program, powered by Google, provides independent small businesses and artists with a quick, easy and no-cost way to get selling online. Small business owners can access free one-to-one support from e-commerce experts to help them sell their work or services online.
“I have a lot of stuff in the store, but it was hard to show absolutely everything the way my website was set up before. It had the images of my stock uploaded through Instagram and it won’t work directly with Shopify, so we have to re-do it. It’s frustrating because I paid a lot of money to have that site delivered last year only to need something completely different now,” Bhalla remembered. “It will be so much easier with e-commerce to show what I have and get it to customers with curbside pick-up and even mail delivery.”
The worry and frustration is taking a toll on Bhalla, but she is not beaten.
“My entire business is about healing and feeling good about your self-care, about making your best side show as brightly as it can,” she said. Reminding herself of the purpose that drives her work has helped Bhalla get creative with the tools she has available.
“The store is tiny, so when there are just one or two people inside, it is packed. It really always is a personal one-on-one shopping experience. I’ve always relied on word of mouth and advertising is just not in the budget right now,” she explained. “I’ve been putting together Instagram posts of virtual shopping experiences and going around the store with my phone to show customers what I have that interests them. They can make their choices and I can mail their products to them.”
While Bhalla’s creative use of Instagram is getting her through each day. More help is on the way.
“The Digital Squad is helping me now,” Bhalla said, referring to the team of digital experts from Mississauga’s Digital Main Street program delivered through the Mississauga Business Enterprise Centre (MBEC). s MBEC has connected her to the Digital Main Street program and to professionals for accounting and legal advice to assist Bhalla in finding government programs that can help her through this difficult time.
It is certain though, that Bhalla has no intention of giving up on her business.
“You just have to put those big lady heels on and keep moving forward,” she says. “That is exactly what I am going to keep doing.”
Digital Main Street is a program that helps main street businesses achieve digital transformation. This program is built around an online learning platform, structured training programs, and our Digital Service Squad, a team of street-level members who help main street businesses grow and manage their operations through technology.
The Mississauga Business Enterprise Centre (MBEC) is a business unit of the City of Mississauga’s Economic Development Office. MBEC is your central source for business information, resources and guidance. For information and guidance, our team is currently available to serve you remotely. Please contact us by phone or email.