Companies and COVID: How Vancouver businesses are embracing the new normal

Jun 30 2020, 7:39 am

Local businesses in Vancouver are creating ways to strengthen the public’s trust as they prepare for a safe and sanitary customer experience while restrictions loosen around COVID-19.

As BC recently entered Phase 3 of its Restart Plan, many businesses in the province have already begun reopening with heightened sanitation and new regulations on how to properly tend to customers who may be hesitant to return to their regular shopping behaviour.

BC’s Restart Plan currently allows for the reopening of a number of businesses including restaurants, the retail sector, hair salons, barbers, and other personal service establishments under strict protocols.

Beauty business pivot focus to reopen

Full-service beauty salons like CurliQue Beauty Boutique have triple the responsibility as they offer close contact grooming services, product sales, and are part of the Blanche Macdonald Centre, a beauty college in downtown Vancouver.

businesses vancouver covid-19

Outside CurliQue Beauty Boutique, downtown Vancouver. (Jacky Le/CurliQue Beauty Boutique)

While digitization seems to be the way forward for many service-based businesses, the use of the telephone at their retail boutique has become a lifeline. Although it has been a long process, it’s also turned out to be a way to build a human connection with their customers, said Jacky Le, PR manager at Blanche Macdonald & CurliQue Beauty.

“A lot of us were feeling isolated and alone, so to have that human interaction is a great way to build a stronger clientele in the midst of COVID-19. Our ordering process is not the most up to date system because it’s not an e-commerce system, but what we have come to learn is that a lot of our customers have a consistent passion for supporting local businesses.”

Le said because they will not be able to offer their usual close proximity services, there will be a shift in strategy and focus on customer education and products.

 

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“The main focus for us to continue to build trust with our clients is through education. When we reopen, we want to look at ways we can offer our workshops again but the logistics of it is a bit hard because of COVID-19,” said Le.

To ensure customers stay informed, Le said the CurliQue Beauty Boutique will be putting out a very concise and detailed sanitation plan.

“This is so that our customers are fully aware of what their experience is going to be like when they walk into our store. Sanitation and cleaning processes will be doubled, all associates are going to be wearing masks and testers will be removed for the time being,” said Le.

Online retail is changing too

SUVA Beauty, a Vancouver-based independent beauty brand, is also prepared and making the necessary steps to protect customers and employees, even though they operate in a virtual space.

“We had already adjusted when COVID-19 took place and moved to a work-from-home model that allowed our customers to really trust in the process and that we are really trying to implement the best and safest policies for our staff,” said Shaina Azad, founder and CEO of SUVA Beauty, in a phone interview with the DailyHive.

“In terms of customers, they probably already feel kind of safe because it’s e-commerce. Our e-commerce blew up even more because of everybody shopping online,” she said.

businesses vancouver covid-19

Shaina Azad, SUVA Beauty Founder, in her e-commerce business stock room. (Olivia Lam/SUVA Beauty Cosmetics)

Due to this increase in customer support, Azad said the Canadian company was able to do even more to support the local community in Vancouver.

“We’re able to give back to our community and those who need help right now. We’ve gotten a bit more aggressive in our charity work because of what’s happened, working with women’s shelters and the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre and being able to support them with whatever their needs are,” said Azad.

 

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While the SUVA Beauty warehouse and office staff are operating within coronavirus guidelines of physical distancing, sanitation, and mask-wearing, Azad said customers can rest assured that the same quality that goes into making the products goes into distribution.

“We are really proud to say that we are a globally compliant brand, so everything that we create is manufactured in a very hygienic manufacturing facility. We’ve always followed this great practice of maintaining excellent hygiene when it comes to the manufacturing of our products and warehousing it. It’s the same hygienic practices when we pick and pack orders to ship them out,” said Azad.

 

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Education is an important aspect of SUVA Beauty’s dedication to its customer base, and Azad explained that if other online retailers can do a good job of educating their consumers online via social media, it would be a huge win in these unprecedented times.

“We do a lot of Instagram lives, and we’ve done a pretty good job of educating people on our practices. One of them that a lot of people don’t know, is that you can use UVC lights to sanitize and we’ve always done that at SUVA Beauty,” said Azad.

How commercial spaces are preparing for customers

For core business communities like Gastown, to ensure a smooth reopening of businesses in the area, the Open With Care initiative was started on June 1, said Stefanie Schulz, executive director of the Gastown Business Improvement Society.

The awareness campaign is a Vancouver BIA partnership, in an effort to build consumer confidence providing information on how the public can shop with care. Schulz said the Gastown BIA handed out Open With Care kits to the various businesses in the area as every BIA will be putting their own spin on the campaign.

“Everything in the kits was sourced locally to foster community support and a shop local mentality. All of the kits included locally sourced masks, hand sanitizer, safe distancing floor stickers, Work Safe BC guidelines, big signs to put up in-store windows saying ‘be kind, be safe’ and that really supported the community spirit,” said Schulz.

 

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According to Schulz, currently, over 90% of retailers and businesses are open in Gastown. To encourage physical distancing and to provide business owners with the tools they need to open with care, Schulz said working with the members on a recovery task force was essential.

“We are hoping to turn Gastown into one big patio space. The City has implemented a Temporary Expedited Patio Program and we took it a step further and hired an architect to help with the drawing and measurements to turn little cafes who never used to have a patio to be part of this entire patio space. It should make us the Vancouver area with the most patio seats per square footage,” said Schulz.

One of the beautiful things that came out of the pandemic closing down stores and businesses in the area, were the murals of gratitude initiative started by a local Gastown artist, Kim Briscoe. Schulz said they continued this artists’ legacy by having two Open with Care murals painted at the beginning of the campaign.

 

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“This grassroots initiative really showcased the spirit and resilience of the Gastown community. They have my full admiration on how they handled this situation that they weren’t prepared for and we truly hope that we can take this further. We are currently working with the Vancouver Museum and some other partners to use those murals for an outdoor gallery to continue to spread the message of hope and community,” said Schulz.

Schulz said it was important for business owners to make the best out of the situation coronavirus brought on to the downtown area.

“It makes us stronger as a community. Everything we do is about the community, involving the community. We are also trying to work collaboratively. There is no competition right now because everybody realizes they have to work together to build trust and let people know that Gastown is a fun, safe place.”