Local retailers adapt, survive, and find growth opportunities during the pandemic

Deb Moldaschel
Redwood Falls Gazette

This is the fourth in a series of articles about how the pandemic has affected Redwood area businesses and organizations. The Gazette is working with Anne Johnson, Executive Director, Redwood Area Chamber & Tourism, to present this information.

This article features retail businesses which replied to questions on how their operation has been impacted by COVID-19.

“‘Shop Local’ is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot in the world these days,” said Johnson. “As we at Redwood Area Chamber always say, it’s not something you should only think about at the holidays — you should shop local 365 days of the year! Local owners, typically having invested much of their life savings in their businesses, have a natural interest in the community’s long-term health.” 

“Local businesses are essential to community endeavors, and their owners frequently serve on local boards and associations, supporting numerous causes,” Johnson said. “Also, local businesses donate to local non-profits, school groups and functions, and other local fundraisers, which directly benefits your friends, family, neighbors, and you, but if you want that to continue, you must support their local business. Get to know our local retailers, and you find these things ring true.”

Johnson reached out to several local retail businesses, busy people, and asked them: How has COVID-19 affected your business? What new promotions or events have you tried as a result of covid? Or, what have been some positives that have come out of this time?

This week we feature three local businesses—Blossom Town, Brighter Home Store, and Larson’s Home Furnishings.

Blossom Town Floral, Gifts & Greenhouse

“If you would have asked me these questions last spring, I’m certain I would have answered them much differently,” said Blossom Town owner Becky Kuglin. “Looking back, one of our social media posts in March 2020 was ‘Flowers remind us that spring is coming and that there are better days ahead!’ Here we are in February 2021 – and even though the road’s been longer and tougher than we ever imagined, the saying still holds true. Here we are approaching another spring with better days ahead!”

Kuglin said the cancellation of funerals, holiday church orders, proms, and even winter classes, was a big hit to their bottom line — but survival mode brought on creativity. 

“We rallied with positives things we had control of,” she said. “We had a delivery service already in place, but we needed to implement ‘no-contact’ policies that kept everyone safe and healthy. We added a door bell when our front door had to be locked and offered curbside service, which went over very well.” 

Blossom Town has made a conscious effort to stock their retail shop with gift items sure to bring smiles to customers.

Kuglin said Blossom Town experienced a substantial increase in online orders through their website, for which they are very grateful. She said they experienced some unexpected hurdles due to supply chain shortages of not only flowers, but glass and other supplies, which was a surprise in mid-summer. 

“Regardless, customers have been very understanding and supportive,” Kuglin said. “And we are very grateful for our amazing staff, who continued to show up for work with so many unknowns happening. They trusted us to keep them safe and we thank them daily for that!”

Kuglin said the pandemic prompted them to search for new unique inventory for their retail shop. She said they put a more conscious effort into offering gifts that make people smile and were more mindful of items with kinder sayings, more comforting and morale lifters. 

Last spring Blossom Town made their greenhouse inventory available online and offered to deliver garden plants or provide curbside pickup. 

“Customers loved the convenience of this option,” said Kuglin. “I’m sure we’ll continue to offer this service.” 

“We are proud to be a part of this community and surrounding area,” said Kuglin. “Blossom Town has always been in the business of providing comfort and encouragement through the services we provide. Throughout this pandemic we have served as a vessel to keep people connected, but it is so much more than that. We have witnessed such an amazing abundance of kind gestures. Some messages simply said ‘we miss seeing you in church, hope you’re doing well.’ We saw tokens of encouragement to teachers and of appreciation to health care workers. We were fortunate to capture the smiles on the elderly, ecstatic to know they were thought of in a special way. 

“Your acts of kindness do make a difference and we are lucky to witness such thoughtfulness. That alone keeps us going. As a community our resilience is amazing.”

Brighter Homes Store

“At the beginning of COVID, we had reduced hours, but as home owners were staying home, they seemed to notice the need to update their homes,” said Matt and Sara Beavers, Brighter Homes Store owners. “We went back to the original hours, 8 to 5 Monday through Friday and 8:30 to noon on Saturdays. We also offered after hours one on one consultations.”

The Beavers said  they experienced delay of some deliveries, so they stocked up on inventory in an effort to give clients immediate pick up and carry out.

At Brighter Homes Store, customers find a large selection of flooring from the most popular — Luxury Vinyl Tile (LVT) and planks, hardwood, engineered wood, Laminate to carpet.

“If you’re looking to remodel a bathroom, for example, we can pull it all together for you and get you pretty close to your Pinterest boards,” said Jane Magers, Design Specialist at the store. “With our huge variety of Tile displays, we are able to coordinate with clients’ cabinets and countertops or suggest new if need be.”

The store introduced the Benjamin Moore Paint line in January 2020 and it has been very well received. Other popular brands they carry are Shaw, Mohawk, Mannington, National Flooring, Cambria, BKC Cabinets (a local supplier), American Olean, Syverson Tile, and Schluter Systems.

Magers said they know so many selections can be overwhelming. “We like to help you narrow it down to a couple of choices,” she said. “We like to make shopping here a fun experience.”

“We would like to thank everyone for keeping it local,” said Matt and Sara Beavers. “Your business and hometown dedication are much appreciated.

“These are unique times, it’s a time to work together, it’s a time to keep the small communities and businesses viable.”

Larson’s Home Furnishings

“When the first shut-down was announced it felt like a crushing blow,” said Scott Larson, owner of Larson’s Home Furnishings in Redwood Falls and Marshall. “Only days before, we’d received a large shipment of La-Z-Boy recliners in anticipation of our semi-annual two-for-one sale. What immediately became apparent was the need for employees to work as a team to be flexible about individual needs with home-schooling, pre-existing health conditions, and other shifts in priorities and abilities to work.” 

Larson said they all took advantage of the quiet time to improve the stores—allowing team members who wanted and were able to work, to continue when and as they were able. 

“In Marshall, fluorescent lights were replaced with LEDs,” said Larson. “It was a three-week job and involved moving all of the furniture to accommodate ladders, then moving it all back into position. In the Redwood Falls store, employees were occupied with cleaning, sorting, and painting in order to give the store a fresh, uncluttered look.”

When the shut-down was lifted, Larson’s was once again able to conduct their sale and resume business in normal, but more careful ways. 

“With guidance from the state’s protocols, a program of Shop Safe/Deliver Safe was implemented,” explained Larson. “Again, the key has been flexibility. Depending on customers’ comfort level, deliveries can be made into the garage or into the home with delivery staff all wearing masks. Many customers are arriving in trucks to take their purchases home with them.” 

The Larson’s Home Furnishings stores are large spaces, so social distancing is not a problem. Larson said customers are also welcome to make appointments to shop during closed hours in order to assure that they will be the only customers.

During the pandemic some suppliers have closed their factories said Larson. Others have extended their lead times. The inventory build-up has turned out to be an asset as Larson’s continues to have a full selection. 

“We’ve been leaning heavily towards U.S. manufacturers for many years,” said Larson. “They have experienced fewer delays and better quality by focusing on American-made products. This has been especially helpful to local assisted-living and elder-care facilities. Throughout the pandemic we have worked in partnership to assure that deliveries and service of essential products—power chairs and adjustable bed bases—to elder-care facilities are made promptly and safely. Great service is the standard at Larson’s Home Furnishings.”