Glebe businesses offer personal service unmatched by online giants

Eva Cooper, owner of the Delilah clothing shop, has adapted to the times by offering one-on-one appointments and sees a trend towards a more curated, consultation-like shopping experience in the future.   Photo: Courtesy of Glebe BIA

Shopping local will be a major factor in small business survival this fall, winter

By Trevor Greenway

Scott Robinson couldn’t wait to open up his first-ever pizza joint in the Glebe this past March.

He was days away from firing up the new wood-fired ovens, slicing up fresh veggies and rolling out the dough for his signature pies like the Hot & Spicy and the Great White North, when the World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic.

In an instant, Robinson’s dream was reduced to a flicker, like the pilot light on his Bank Street pizza oven.

“It was and continues to be difficult at times,” admits Robinson, owner of the brand-new Score Pizza at Bank and Fifth. “Although we continue to have a very positive outlook on our situation, it is hard to forget all of the struggles that we have had to overcome.”

Delayed by provincial shutdowns and city inspections, the pizza joint finally opened in early June and hasn’t really looked back. Robinson credits the pizzeria’s early success to local diners who have opted for pizza night more often this summer.

“We were a little surprised, but the Glebe has been known to be a very encouraging community and that reputation holds true,” adds Robinson.

But Robinson isn’t getting this amazing great Glebe welcome just because he’s a local small business owner, it’s also because of the experience customers are having inside his shop. On most days, you’ll find Robinson himself manning the ovens, recommending his faves to customers and tossing up dough for that perfect crust. Staff are friendly, genuine and happy to serve hungry diners.

It’s much of the same down the street at Delilah, where owner Eva Cooper has adapted to a new shopping reality that she is seeing take form across the city. She’s introduced one-on-one shopping appointments and a Pay-it-Forward campaign as well as Delilah’s Daily Picks, which featured a series of curated outfits advertised online to generate sales and awareness for her Bank Street clothing shop.

“We have had to adapt on a continual basis,” says Cooper. She already sees a trend towards a more curated, consultation-like shopping experience for consumers in the future. Her customers have been flooding in from across the city for a one-on-one visit at the shop.

“When we were given the green light to open as of Phase 1, I decided to do it by one-on-one appointments only,” says Cooper. “I quickly discovered that this could be the new normal. I was busy with five to seven appointments daily, and it was a wonderful way to reconnect with my customers and understand how they were adapting and adjusting to our new reality.”

It’s this type of hyper-local, deeply personalized service that consumers get from small businesses, not only in the Glebe but across the country, says Carleton business professor Ian Lee. He says that while some businesses certainly won’t be able to weather the storm this winter, many others will succeed through superior customer service that can’t be delivered by the big-box chain stores.

“I think the niche markets are going to grow,” says Lee, mentioning places like the Glebe Meat Market, ethnic and specialty food stores like Hareg Café & Variety and Audio Shop. These places, he says, can start the kind of long-standing relationship with customers that they won’t get at Amazon or Walmart.

“As we become more affluent, we become more discerning,” says Lee. “We become more discerning, more educated, more knowledgeable, so guess what? Our expectations and our demands go up. The e-commerce online is geared for the mass market, just like Walmart is geared for the mass market, just as Sears was geared for the mass market. It wasn’t geared for individuals with individual unique requirements or demands, so that is the opportunity space for small business in the future.”

Lee adds that it’s “not all doom and gloom” for bricks and mortar businesses, and those that can offer an elevated level of customer service will easily compete with the Amazons of the online world.

With buying local likely to be a make-it-or-break-it factor for many businesses as we head into the fall and the holiday season, it will become increasingly important to support your local shops, restaurants, cafés, bakeries, salons and spas.

Small businesses are the lifeblood of our communities, and the people behind them are our friends, our family, our neighbours – the ones who make our community buzz with life every day.

So buy a coffee from the little guy, get some new shoes without clicking “add to cart,” and surprise the family with a mouth-watering take-out order from one of the Glebe’s fine eateries.

Support local. Shop local. Save local.

Trevor Greenway is communications and membership officer for the Glebe BIA (Business Improvement Area).

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