Kiki Lally is seen in an undated handout photo at Pinnovate, a craft studio in Calgary. When the pandemic began, Lally couldn’t host birthday parties, camps or bridal showers anymore, so she started making DIY kits and offering them for delivery. The DIY kits had to be sold through a new website called DIY Delivery that she built. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Jennifer Chabot, *MANDATORY CREDIT*

Kiki Lally is seen in an undated handout photo at Pinnovate, a craft studio in Calgary. When the pandemic began, Lally couldn’t host birthday parties, camps or bridal showers anymore, so she started making DIY kits and offering them for delivery. The DIY kits had to be sold through a new website called DIY Delivery that she built. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Jennifer Chabot, *MANDATORY CREDIT*

‘Not as easy as it looks’: Small businesses share what it takes to move online

Shipping, fitting all made complicated by COVID

Kiki Lally has never met a mess she was afraid of.

The Calgary entrepreneur launched craft studio Pinnovate in the middle of an Alberta recession and has seen her fair share of sticky fingers across hundreds of art classes, birthday parties and camps her business has hosted.

So when COVID-19 measures triggered shutdowns last year, Lally tackled the crisis the way she knew best: with paint, yarn and a bit of creativity.

She launched DIY Delivery, an online website selling craft kits, but quickly discovered set up wasn’t cheap or as simple as a few clicks.

“It’s not as easy as it looks … All of a sudden we’re learning e-commerce and inventory and creating kits and creating videos and a YouTube channel,” Lally said.

“Even the logistics of delivery sounds so simple until you’re actually finding all these nooks and crannies in your city and making mapped out plans.”

Lally’s experience offers a window into some of the challenges Canada’s 1.14 million small businesses have faced as they race to embrace e-commerce during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business said one-third of small businesses across the country offered online sales as of November. Roughly 152,000 small businesses shifted to boost e-commerce between March and November and one in five independent companies told the advocacy organization they expect to increasingly rely on that avenue to survive.

While customers have breezed through online shopping, delivery, takeout and curbside pickup, small business owners have been working around the clock, spending big bucks and retooling their entire operations to keep it all together.

Some have had to revamp products and menu items to ensure they don’t arrive damaged or cold and soggy upon delivery. Others have toyed with virtual reality to offer digital fittings for apparel and many have dabbled in coding, social media and online payment systems.

Catherine Choi, the owner of Hanji Gifts in Toronto, has been busy with photography.

When COVID-19 struck Canada, her company already had a website to sell goods, but she estimates only 15 per cent of its products were on it.

Choi bought a lightbox and between getting her daughter set up for virtual school and processing curbside pickup orders, she started snapping the store’s inventory.

“It takes a long time,” she said. “We still probably have less than half our products online right now.”

Choi has tried to focus on adding items from artisans and manufacturers who provide their photos for her to use because it cuts down on the work.

She’s also zeroed in on items that are easy to ship like cards, stickers, washi tapes, socks and craft paper. Bulky and fragile products like ceramics will come later.

Getting items online has been a time consuming task because Hanji does not have a traditional payment system and uses old-school paper ledgers and binders to track inventory at its three locations.

Choi moved Hanji’s warehouse closer to home so she could work late into the evening on processing orders, but that hasn’t solved every problem.

“Someone may want a card and there’s only one left and it’s only online inside our warehouse in Scarborough, so we have to figure out how to get that card to the location they want to pick it up from,” said Choi.

Dealing with so many changes and stressors at once has entrepreneurs feeling “overwhelmed,” said Darryl Julott, a managing lead at Digital Main Street, which helps companies digitize operations and is backed by the City of Toronto and the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas.

“I talk to business owners and they’ll say we are trying to build a website and every time we talk to a company, they overwhelm us and we don’t get answers to our questions, so we don’t know what to do,” he said.

Digital Main Street, which was founded in 2014, is trying to eliminate some of that guesswork and make it easier and less confusing for companies, who are realizing their livelihoods now need “bricks and clicks.”

In recent months, the organization has helped many entrepreneurs set up accounting software, email systems and online stores. The biggest obstacles they notice involve bookkeeping or where owners live in relation to their business, said Julott.

Many companies are still using paper ledgers and any sales or adjustments they make require them to head to their office or store, which can make online operations tough and time-consuming, he explained.

While logistics and retooling a business can be a bother, Lally said the hardest part of the shift online is maintaining hope as the pandemic drags on.

“Just like everybody else in Canada we didn’t know what this (pandemic) was and what it was going to be and what the long-term ramifications of it were,” she said.

Most of her staff were prepared to roll up their sleeves and do whatever it took to launch delivery. One worker waived her salary and volunteered at the studio instead.

Regulars even offered to drop off the studio’s kits, but most customers don’t even realize how much work goes into a transformation, said Lally.

“It always looks easy when someone else is doing it, but it’s really not.”

ALSO READ: WestJet puts 1,000 workers on leave, citing government’s ‘incoherent’ policy

Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusSmall Business

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Some members of city council say the current plan for rebuilding the library isn’t in the community’s best interest, but the majority of council say it should go forward as is, so the motion to reexamine it was defeated. File photo/Campbell River Mirror
Re-examination of plan for new Campbell River library narrowly voted down by council

‘I haven’t heard one argument that does make sense for why that has to be the location’

A welcoming ceremony was held at the meeting of the SRD board April 14, where gifts were exchanged between KCFN Director Kevin Jules (left) and SRD Chair Brad Unger (right) to mark the historic occasion. Photo Submitted
KCFN officially joins SRD as full member

‘For KCFN, this has been a long journey and a long time coming’ says SRD board member Kevin Jules

Fish processing workers fillet farm-raised salmon in Surrey B.C. Photo courtesy BCSFA
Discovery Islands salmon farm removal impacts jobs in B.C.’s Lower Mainland: report

The City of Surrey is the hub of the salmon farming industry in Metro Vancouver

Island Heath has issued an overdose advisory for Campbell River. If someone has overdosed, administering naloxone can help. File photo
Overdose advisory issued for Campbell River

People using drugs advised to protect themselves

Photo collage of loved ones lost to substance use and overdose. (Photo courtesy Moms Stop The Harm)
B.C. overdose deaths still rising 5 years after public health emergency declared

Moms Stop the Harm calls on B.C. to provide safe supply in response to deadly illicit drug use

Demonstrators at the legislature on April 14 called on the province to decriminalize drug possession and provide widespread access to regulated safe supply across B.C. (Jake Romphf/News Staff)
Rally calls for decriminalization, safe supply on 5th anniversary of overdose emergency declaration

From 2016 to the end of February, 7,072 British Columbians died due to overdose

(Government of Canada)
Liberal MP caught stark naked during House of Commons video conference

William Amos, in Quebec, appeared on the screens of his fellow members of Parliament completely naked

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, Feb. 1, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count jumps to 1,168 Wednesday, nearly 400 in hospital

Now 120 coronavirus patients in intensive care, six more deaths

Moss covered branches are seen in the Avatar Old Growth Forest near Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island, B.C. Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. blockades aimed at protecting old-growth forests reveal First Nation split

Two Pacheedaht chiefs say they’re ‘concerned about the increasing polarization over forestry activities’ in the territory

Richmond RCMP Chief Superintendent Will Ng said, in March, the force received a stand-out number of seven reports of incidents that appeared to have “racial undertones.” (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
‘Racially motivated’ incidents on the rise in B.C’s 4th largest city: police

Three incidents in Richmond are currently being invested as hate crimes, says RCMP Chief Superintendent Will Ng

Commercial trucks head south towards the Pacific Highway border crossing Wednesday (April 14, 2021). The union representing Canadian border officers wants its members to be included on the frontline priority list for the COVID-19 vaccine. (Aaron Hinks photo)
CBSA officers’ union calls for vaccine priority in B.C.

Border officers at ports including, YVR and land crossings should ‘not be left behind’

(Amandalina Letterio - Capital News)
Kelowna demonstrators show support for Vancouver Island logging activists

Two Kelowna men stood atop a pedestrian bridge on Harvey Avenue to raise awareness about old-growth forests

City workers from Duncan were busy recently putting up street signs in both Hul’q’umi’num’ and English. (Submitted photo)
Hul’q’umi’num street signs installed in downtown Duncan

Partnership with Cowichan Tribes sees English street names twinned with Indigenous language

Most Read