By Frank Pizzoli
Charlie Good, owner of Homestyle Charlie in Hershey’s Briarcrest Square, is trying to stay upbeat. He sells cards, gifts, retro objects d’art, and jewelry. And like business owners across Pennsylvania, he’s living through the challenge of first, closing his physical operations and moving online, and then calculating a come-back after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. He recently spoke with our partners at the Central Voice about his experience and his future plans.
Central Voice: Did Gov. Tom Wolf’s mandatory closing surprise you?
Charlie Good: I was disappointed, but not surprised. I was expecting it for a few weeks prior. There was some chatter online in some small business Facebook groups. Since visitor numbers were already starting to decline, businesses were already feeling “shut down” regardless of this mandate.
CV: But you do have online shopping?
CG: We have tried to expand our online offerings but a lot of our items are best experienced in person. Like many small shop owners, I’ve tried very hard to create a unique, physical store so customers have a fun experience while shopping in person.
CV: Now that you’re closed, are you piecing together a ‘come back’ plan?
CG: Yes, although the scope depends on the length of the shutdown. And without knowing how long, it’s difficult to plan an exact strategy. With a shutdown of just a few weeks, it’s easier to keep in touch with customers through emails and Facebook posts.
CV: And with a longer shutdown?
CG: With a longer shutdown, that “maintenance plan” becomes more of a grand “re-opening” style blitz of advertising, promotions, emails, and hopefully word-of-mouth connections.
CV: Realistically, customer retention isn’t the same as new customer development.
CG: It costs more to get new customers compared to retaining current ones and the cost to “relaunch” a business after a lengthy period of closure is substantial.
CV: For Homestyle Charlie, an owner-operated, small retail shop, is the challenge staying on shoppers’ radar?
CG: I just hope that since all businesses seem to be in the same situation, and peoples’ routines and schedules have been so upended, that once everything gets back to a sense of normalcy, small businesses especially will be remembered.
CV: Is there a trade association or merchant group you have consulted with on a reopening plan?
CG: I follow several business and marketing experts on Facebook, and everyone is sharing ideas on trying to both stay connected, and then re-connecting with customers when the current situation improves.
CV: Is there an upside?
CG: There are a few silver linings in all of this. The online shopping component of my website, which was originally scheduled to launch later this year, is now live. The physical store closure allowed me time to accelerate implementation.
CV: As business owners do all the time, you looked the situation in the eye and shifted gears?
CG: A lot of technical learning had to happen quickly on my part, but that is a good thing. When this is all over my business will be more well-rounded. I’m also going to be implementing some new social media strategies on Facebook and Instagram to strengthen my connection with my customers.
CV: Should our readers should stay tuned?
CG: Yes, they should. We should all remember that each of us is challenged by COVID-19, not only businesses. Each of us doing what we can is of utmost importance.
Frank Pizzoli is the editor of the Central Voice, where this interview first appeared.