Ocean Sports was the Grand Prize winner of the Offline to Online prize in the 2020 Tales of Triumph contest. Their transformation of their business model in the face of dramatic and permanent shifts in customer behaviour and expectations is inspiring. We spoke with owner Megan Plemel about how she navigated the pandemic and kept customers happy by moving from brick and mortar to e-commerce.
Tell us a little about Ocean Sports and your history
Ocean Sports is an Edmonton-based year-round watersports and scuba business. I’ve worked here since I was 16, first as an employee. My husband and I bought it from the previous owner a few years ago. Even our kids work with us, so we’re truly a family business.
How was your business impacted by the pandemic?
COVID-19 literally took us out at the knees. We had to close our brick-and-mortar location in March of last year and lay off our tremendous staff. Everything stopped: our scuba training, our dive travel and our watersports sales at the start of our spring season. We were shocked and scared.
To make things worse, we had purchased a 4,000-square-foot booth at a very important trade show which got shut down within just four hours of opening due to coronavirus concerns. We lost many thousands of dollars in set-up costs and potential revenue.
Dive into Ocean Sports’ website for more information on this amazing company.Visit website
How important did selling online in Canada become for your business?
Ocean Sports became our lifeline. We nurtured it like a baby, tweaking our messaging and products. We often spent 12 to 16 hours a day responding personally to new customer inquiries by phone, email, text and through social media. Delivering a white glove experience online was incredibly important.
Going from brick and mortar to online is a big change. How did you promote your online store?
At a time when we were evaluating every single dollar and expenditure, we made the tough decision to increase our ad spend on Google and Facebook ads. We immediately started seeing results. We were getting inquiries and orders from customers in B.C., Ontario, Québec and the Maritimes.
From March to July, over 90 per cent of customers online and in store were new. This was a revelation. Many days I would take 20 to 30 parcels to the post office for shipping. For our local customer base, we offered local delivery and curbside pickup.
Most gratifying, we became busy enough that we could recall some of our staff.
Twelve months ago, less than 5 per cent of our business was online. It's grown to be nearly 50 per cent.
You mentioned shipping earlier. Any words of advice?
Free shipping on most orders over $99 was a major factor in getting so many online orders from across Canada. It definitely cut into our margins, but we knew that low cost or free shipping is important to many customers.
Any lessons you can share with businesses looking to transition from brick and mortar to online?
For us, the secrets to success online were clear product detail, as close to 100 per cent inventory accuracy as possible and impeccable customer care. On that last point, concentrate on making the customer experience top notch. Promptly respond to every customer question or concern. It’s an opportunity to win them over.
The pandemic has tested the Ocean Sports team’s patience, courage and imagination, but the potential to reach new heights spurs them on. As Plemel explains, “We’ve worked harder than I thought possible to change our business model after 45 years. But we’re seeing success – and we’re excited about what the future holds.”
We’re back for another year – stay tuned!
The Tales of Triumph contest is back for 2021. Will you enter it? Subscribe to our newsletter for contest updates and information.Subscribe