As Ohioans continue to stay home and practice social distancing in an attempt to flatten the COVID-19 curve, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced in a press conference Monday that the state will begin to slowly reopen starting May 1. A variety of businesses will be allowed to reopen on specific dates, including retail stores, which may begin business again on May 12.
Anna Steffen, owner of The Native One, shares how reopening her brick-and-mortar locations will impact her business.
The Native One closed its two locations — in Over-the-Rhine and Covington — on March 15, and despite the “OK” from the governor to reopen on May 12, Steffen says she plans to wait until at least June 1.
“I’m going to hold off a little bit and see how things are going with people health-wise, and hopefully in June we will reopen,” she says.
CityBeat: How would you describe your products to someone who has not shopped with you before?
Anna Steffen: I would describe it as a one-stop shop where you can get some timeless pieces for your home, but then also some classic pieces for your wardrobe. We have stationery, plants, furniture. Honestly, anything you name, we've probably got it.
CB: How has the stay-at-home order impacted your business and employees?
AS: I did have to lay off all four of our employees. But, as of last week, I was able to bring back one person and then next week, we'll have two more people added on.
CB: In addition to now selling plants online, which has generated a lot of interest, how have you utilized social media and e-commerce to generate sales during this time?
AS: We do little styling videos (on our Instagram) of how we would mix and match our pieces, that's really been our main focal point. We're also seeing more traffic; we've never had this many consecutive online orders, so people are definitely on their phones shopping. It's also put a new perspective on things because we’ve always done the website, but it's never been my sole focus because I'm always so tied up with retail. But, it's been really nice to take a step back from that, and focus solely on our website. I have been able to get over 100 new SKUs online, whether it be stationery, home goods, planters or plants, we were able to get all of that added which probably wouldn't have happened if we didn't have the time that we (have now). So, it's been nice to look at our business plan and change it for right now and then also into the future.
CB: Despite customers having the option to shop your inventory online, why are in-person sales so crucial to the success of your business?
AS: Our brick and mortars, that's where our main source of income is. When customers are coming in, we're not having to pay for shipping or the shipping boxes. So, we're getting that full margin that we really need to have.
CB: What has this period of adjustment to a “new normal” taught you about the support of the Cincinnati community?
AS: There's no city like Cincinnati. I've never seen a city come together like Cincinnati has, especially through this time. The Cincy Card Connection that 3CDC, Procter & Gamble and Empower started, I've never seen anything like that and it was crazy the amount of gift card sales that we've had solely from that … We also do $5 deliveries and if people pick up their orders, we've promoted that if you pay $5 for your delivery, it's going to help staff our employees, and people are picking up their plants and they (tell us to keep it for our employees). It's crazy because yes, it's only $5, but the amount of people who just say don't even worry about it, that's really cool.
CB: What aspect of reopening are you most eager for?
AS: I am eager to get back to visual merchandising. I love going in (the store). We try to keep the stores as switched up as possible and when we reopen, my goal is to have a complete, fresh new inventory. So, what you saw in there before we closed, it's going to be completely turned over into new things.
CB: Once you reopen, what new steps will you take to ensure an elevated level of sanitation and safety?
AS: I think that every time a customer tries clothes on, we're going to have to limit it to six (per person). So that way, it's not overwhelming, and I don't want to Lysol clothes because some people don't vibe with that, but I do want to figure out something like a non-chemical solution to clean them or sanitize them. We could always steam them one by one after (customers) try them on but that could definitely get a little crazy. We're not 100% sure yet, but I know that every time someone goes into the fitting room, we will be wiping it down before someone else goes in. Clothes wise, whether we steam it, spray it or whatever, before they go back on the floor, they'll be sanitized.
CB: What sort of long-term effects will this extended period of shutdown have on your business?
AS: I think that since there will be a lot of fear still when things do reopen, I feel like things are not going to be as busy as it once was for a while. I'm nervous that when I do open back up and have to pay my employees, my payroll is going to be sky high when our brick and mortars are going to still not be to that level that (we’re used to).
CB: How can the community continue to support your business until the state reopens completely?
AS: You can leave a review because that will be huge for when we do reopen. Gift cards are also generally really helpful because that is going toward all of our new inventory that we're hoping to bring in. Or even just spreading the word, commenting on pictures, anything like that is the best for us right now.