How customer relationships helped House of Bamboo through the challenges of COVID-19

3 minute read

House of Bamboo is a sustainable living store that offers responsibly-made clothing, home décor and personal care products. Canada Post sat down with owner Dani Anderson to talk about how the primarily brick-and-mortar retailer has been weathering the COVID-19 storm.

What was the initial impact of the pandemic on your business?

When COVID-19 first hit in March, we were forced to close down. It was absolutely terrifying. I had just been open over a year in Waterloo. It was a new business and I rely heavily on foot traffic because I am a brick-and-mortar store and people want to come in and try things on and feel and touch things. And it makes a huge difference when I can’t open my doors.

Tell us about how you shifted to online?

Once my stores closed down, I had to make sure my website was up to date with inventory and products, because it was still a work in progress. I made sure the selection was in stock to honour the orders when they came in and I had to make sure that I didn’t sell things I didn’t have. I write little handwritten notes when I send something out as well, just thanking them, because I really do appreciate the continued support. It hasn’t been easy for anyone and I don’t believe that pushing sales during this time period was the most responsible action. I think it’s about reminding people that you are here for them when they need you or if they need something. Perhaps they’re terrified about what’s going on. So, wearing a mask when I drop things off at people’s houses, ringing the bell, walking my six feet away and making sure I greeted them and asked them how they were doing and how their family was doing. I have a few senior customers that are on their own. And I made a point of trying to reach out to them because I have their phone numbers, just to say hi and check in on them. It was about just being there for your customers, but not pushing them to buy.

Explore House of Bamboo’s online store.

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Can you tell us more about your focus on building relationships with your customers?

I often call my customers my friends because we become friends. I celebrate anniversaries, birthdays, births, marriages, new jobs. It’s amazing all the things that I get to celebrate with my customers. COVID-19 was just one more thing that I went through with them. You have to be able to build relationships with your customers to be successful in business. And you have to value those relationships as well.

What were some of the stumbling blocks you encountered in terms of getting more traffic to the site?

I had a lot more traffic on my website than I normally did pre-pandemic, and sales had increased too. But the biggest challenge was inventory. Being an online retailer and being a brick-and-mortar store are very different in the amount of inventory you carry. And so, there were a lot of challenges. Some of my most popular items had run out, and I wasn’t certain when I would be able to replace that merchandise. I believe that customer service is number one and leaving someone in limbo about when their item will be in stock is not a good way to build that online relationship with your customers. So, it was challenging. Even when my doors opened, there were still inventory challenges, and when people came in looking for things, I would tell them that I’m doing my best to get the things they are looking for. They appreciate the honesty, and they’ll support you so you can get through these tough times.

Do you think you will maintain your physical locations and continue selling online?

As we move forward and progress through the pandemic, I fully intend to keep both my stores open and be here at the end of everything. I believe that people still want to come out and shop in person. I believe that people want to try things on. They like to have the interaction with other people. They like feedback. It’s important to still be able to come into the store. And even being able to even employ more staff. These things have a lot of value to me. It’s hard to build that connectivity just for your digital presence, even though it is incredibly important to have that digital presence for me and what I do.

What’s been the most rewarding thing for you as a small business owner?

I would definitely have to say when someone comes back and tells me they love what they got, they love their sweatshirt, their husband loves their sweatshirt, they bought their dad a t-shirt… That makes any challenge, any stress, anything at all worth it. And that makes me warm and fuzzy inside because I believe that that’s the best thing about what I do.

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