Small Businesses Thankful for Regular Customers
By JOSELYN KING
For much of 2020, hairstyling salons were closed in Ohio, but that didn’t stop some regular customers from continuing to support A Cut Above hair salon in Martins Ferry.
“It was our customer base that kept us afloat,” said owner Chris Cole. “We had regular customers paying for the coloring service they get every month — even though they couldn’t come in and didn’t get the service. They told me they had planned to pay for it, and were going to pay for it anyway.
“They did that just to keep us open.”
Cole and Stacy Dietz, owners of the Ditto Boutique in the Woodsdale section of Wheeling, were among local small shop owners who used new technology — and a few tried and true marketing techniques — to stay in touch and meet the needs of their customer base during the pandemic.
Dietz said she and some employees found themselves taking orders over the internet and by telephone, then delivering it to the doorsteps of the buyers’ homes during the pandemic.
“People in the Ohio Valley do want small businesses to stay afloat, so they do do their part and support us,” Dietz said. “I know people call me and say they’ve seen something online (they wish to buy). They tell me, ‘We want to support you so you stay alive.’ That means a lot to me. … We are beginning to build a website because we know that’s where it is at now. People are doing online shopping so they don’t have to go out and about and be around people.”
But that doesn’t mean shoppers also won’t be stopping in to the corner retail stores in their neighborhood as they seek to avoid more crowded, larger box stores, according to Dietz. She predicts this should bode well for small shops in the future.
“We have customers who know inside our store it won’t be packed,” she said. “Intermittently, there are only a couple of customers who come in at a time …
“There are a lot of people who don’t want to go into the big department stores but go to small stores because they know they won’t be as busy. That’s a good thing.”
Store employees make certain the store is sanitized, and “clean like you wouldn’t believe.”
“I have a lot of retired workers, so I really worry about them,” Dietz said. “They are really cognizant of the fact we don’t want anyone to get this really horrible COVID disease at our shop. We’ve been really good at sanitizer.”
Retail and specialty shops were closed much of the spring and into the summer during 2020.
Dietz said she found out quickly one of the best ways to let people know the shop was open was to have old-fashioned sidewalk sales. Items for sale would catch the eyes of those driving by on National Road, causing them to pull off and stop by to shop.
In the fall, Dietz organized Ditto Boutique’s first “October in Edgwood” event. This included a sidewalk sale involving nearby shops, as well as live music and entertainment to get customers’ attention.
“We thought something that would be safer to do rather than having all those people inside the shop,” she said. “It was a wonderful turnout. It was even a rainy day and people still came out to support the shops.
“The Ohio Valley really wants these businesses to stay afloat, because they know small businesses are struggling.”
Ditto Boutique is continuing to do other promotions to reach the public, and it will host its first fashion show March 28 at the Char House restaurant in Bethlehem. Proceeds will benefit a program that gives gas cards to long-term cancer patients receiving regular treatments.
“I am thrilled with the community and how well we have all come together to support each other and lift each other up,” Dietz said. “I love my hometown.”
Cole said his shop was closed for 57 days as a result of the pandemic and orders from the state of Ohio. Meanwhile, “the bills kept coming in,” he said.
All during the time he kept in contact with customers with postings on Facebook, and he often texted his most established customers.
When word came allowing salons to reopen, Cole was immediately flooded with requests for appointments from those who had been anxiously awaiting a cut or hair coloring service.
“People were wanting to pre-book, but I had to keep telling them there was no set time for sure, and the governor had to give us a certain date before I could start booking,” he said.
Once the date May 15, 2020, was determined, Cole quickly booked over 60 appointments for himself and other stylists in the shop within the first four hours, he said.
The trend continued for the next two months as the client base got caught up with its hair needs.
Then business slowed for a time, according to Cole.
While his own schedule was booked, other stylists in his shop — who work on commission — saw theirs cut in half. One longtime employee left to take a job elsewhere with a guaranteed salary, he said.
Business over the holidays was only about half of what it had been in past years.
Cole said he also noticed that customers who came in every four to six weeks for an appointment were now stretching the time out as long as eight weeks.
“When we were able to open back up, we had no problem getting customers,” he said. “But after that died down, we had to apply for (Payroll Protection Program) loans.That is what has helped us and kept us going when things were slow.
“It’s just now picking back up,” Cole said.