Like most people on this planet, we've been looking back and reflecting on the past year. It was such a strange time of uncertainty and unknowns. In addition to people who were personally ill and infected, there were so many people who were dealing with sick friends and family members. And many others were suffering financially.
Almost immediately our loyal customers sprung into action—buying gift cards, shopping online, placing curbside orders, texting in requests, Instagram messaging us shopping wishlists, shipping to themselves in the city... anything they could do to support us. Shop In Place Chicago sent customers from all over the city to our site. Snappy Printing + Graphics provided cash-strapped businesses like ours free banners to advertise websites and contact phone numbers to hang in hastily shuttered shop windows. We'd begin each morning grateful that we could operate another day. Our loyal local customers kept us going and inspired us to try to pivot.
It was a time where you didn't know what to do, so you just did anything you could.
As a business, we felt fortunate that we had a full-featured website in place to fall back on. We had lost more than half our staff but could at least continue operating— even at a fraction of normal. Our website and Chicago stores had always existed as separate businesses under one big roof. But in late 2019, we began merging our in-store and online catalogs. We didn't know what a true lifesaver that would be. Suddenly, the only way we could be open for business was on the internet. And, fortunately, we were already there.
If we build it, would they come?
We challenged ourselves to make a majority of the products sold in store at ENJOY, AN URBAN GENERAL STORE available online—to try to shift to a 100% online-only business. In a month!
It was all hands on deck as our Retail Store Managers were conscripted for Website Product Data Entry—some of them learning basic html and product photo editing in real time! We were committed to making our entire store inventory available online. So if customers couldn’t come into our stores, we could bring the store to them.
The folks at Lightspeed and Shopify provided crucial tips and tricks as we navigated completing a project in one month that we had originally allotted a year to bring to fruition. The software provider that syncs our product data, Accumula, gave us substantial discounts to keep the store to online connection. And our friends at Paradigm New Media Group worked at a reduced rate to fully implement our Curbside Pickup program that we suspected we'd eventually rely on.
By the end of March, a majority of the products sold in store at ENJOY, AN URBAN GENERAL STORE were made available online—just in time for Easter. We had done all we could do.
We would never expect it, but knowing our customers as we do, it shouldn't have surprised us.
We watched as we began receiving online orders from familiar names and nearby addresses. Friends and family placed orders again and again. They shared on Facebook, Instagram and emails. Customers would leave little notes of encouragement in the special instructions field on website orders. They would respond to our shipping notification emails with gratitude and support. Our customers were choosing to shop small and it was literally keeping us open.
We set up staggered shifts in our warehouse headquarters to pack the online orders and sought to tackle some of those projects that we had been putting off since the busy Christmas season. The stores got very thorough deep cleanings.
In the corner of our warehouse office, behind a stack of Ruth Bader Ginsburg action figures and Mama Bear mugs sat some boxes from Galison and Mudpuppy that needed to be opened. Like the anticipation of opening Capone's vault or finding buried treasure, we cut open the boxes to reveal... puzzles.
SO. MANY. JIGSAW. PUZZLES.
We have featured specialty jigsaw puzzles for many years, including the best-selling Anne Bently's Love Lives Here Puzzle and the Women of Science Puzzle. Puzzles seemed to grow in popularity in the winter and they seemed like a good way to pass the time waiting for spring. So in the long cold month of January 2020 in Chicago, we had placed a large order for new puzzles. Suddenly, we found ourselves having stock on-hand of the one thing that everyone wanted for the coming long days and nights of lockdown—jigsaw puzzles. While that large online retailer whose name rhymes with Hamazon struggled to fulfill jigsaw puzzle orders, we feverishly packed and shipped our little stockpile of specialty puzzles to customers in all 50 states!
We were able to piece together a way to survive the beginning months of the pandemic.