How The Local Space overcame COVID-19 challenges

4 minute read

The Local Space is both an online store and brick-and-mortar boutique in Langley and Chilliwack, B.C. Launched by Megan Nakazawa in 2017, the small business retails Canadian brands – and only Canadian brands. When the pandemic hit, Megan and over 100 makers, who sell their products in her stores, were at risk. Here’s how this intrepid entrepreneur navigated the challenges that came her way during the pandemic and became a finalist in the Weathered the Storm category of the 2020 Tales of Triumph Contest. Discover how she caught the attention of consumers looking to support local and how she inspired others to do the same.

Want to support Canadian brands? Learn more about The Local Space.

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How did The Local Space become a platform for Canadian brands?

I used to run this community for female entrepreneurs called the Fraser Valley Boss Ladies. It had 7,000 members and many of them designed products and had their own brands. But they had a lot of trouble getting their products into stores. That’s how The Local Space started selling local products – all these people said, “we can’t get into stores anywhere.” And I was like, “I’ll sell it. We’ll see if people like it.” Then it just grew and grew and grew.

We only retail Canadian brands in our store and people really love that, especially right now. People want to support locals and not just my family or my staff’s family, but also the hundreds of other families connected to our local brands.

What was the biggest challenge of starting your small business?

The fact that I’d never worked in a retail store and I had no idea what I was doing.

I had no contracts for bringing brands in. Would they sell wholesale or consignment? I didn’t know. It was a whole world that I had never been a part of. Also, I had to find brands that wanted to be in the store, brands that people were actually going to buy. I couldn’t have products on the shelf that no one was interested in. There was a lot of learning and Googling things I never thought I would have to know.

Three variations of a bralette by Jax & Lennon, sold by The Local Space.The pandemic was devastating for many businesses. How did it affect yours?

When it first started, I didn’t think we would get to the other side.

We had to make the difficult decision to lay off our staff (they are all back now though!). My husband works full-time elsewhere and had to help me pull long days at the store packing and shipping orders while he was on conference calls for his work.

When COVID hit, we had two leases going and the construction of our second location couldn’t be put on hold because contracts were already signed.

I knew I just had to keep hustling. That meant doing videos, posting on social media, personally delivering orders to customers, offering free shipping, doing curbside pickup, pulling 18-hour days by myself until we were more certain of bringing staff back.

That time definitely took a toll on my mental health.

What pandemic-related changes did you make to the business?

Before COVID about 5 per cent of our orders came through the website. During COVID, and even now because there are people who still aren’t comfortable shopping in-store, we’re at about 50 to 60 per cent coming through our website.

We offered contactless curbside pickup which meant customers would send a text to our phone with their order number and car type, and we would run the order out to the trunk of their car. My husband would do local delivery a couple times per week (after his regular workday). Both options gave us the opportunity to stay in business, but also give our customers a safe option to continue to support our brands.

Some people aren’t super tech savvy, so we were doing Instagram videos, trying to show people how easy it is to check out and how to select curbside pickup and how it works. Then there were so many orders!

We used to ship one or two items a week. Then, all of a sudden, we’re sending 20 a day. We had to find boxes and all these packing materials. It was hard to find the supplies we needed to ship out items.

Because of COVID, everyone was sold out of everything.

I was an open book with our customers via our social media channels, and I think that made them want to support us even more. Sometimes there were good days, and sometimes there were bad days with me being in tears not knowing what to do. But keeping that communication open with our customers really put us on a more personal level with them.

Were any of those changes permanent or long term?

We’re working on a mobile app and spending a lot more time on the website, making sure it’s up to date, has photos and good descriptions. It gives all the information that customers need without them coming into the store. Since we can only have three or four people in the store at a time, I’m a little concerned about how it’s all going to go moving forward.

But we’ll keep encouraging shopping on the website, doing curbside pickup and we’ll keep doing our Instagram videos, trying to show people the products as much as we can so they can buy without having to physically touch the items.

And we’re working on establishing a local delivery option – one that doesn’t depend on my husband.

There’s more where that came from!

Discover all the incredible finalists of the 2021 Tales of Triumph Contest.

Meet the finalists