Road to Recovery: Running businesses in pandemic proves to be learning experience
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — After 12 years of doing business in Steamboat Springs, Molly Baker has found herself embracing change in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, which has impacted businesses across the country.
“I have never run a business in a pandemic before, so it’s all new to me,” said Baker, who for 12 years has owned the Déjà Vu Consignment Boutique, located at 624 Lincoln Ave. in downtown Steamboat. Baker opened Threads Recyclotherie in June 2019, located a few blocks away at 1125 Lincoln Ave. “I keep expecting it to get quieter, and it doesn’t. I am optimistic that as long as people can keep finding us, that we’ll still be getting the shoppers.”
Baker said the key has been staying flexible and being willing to change everything from store hours to completely changing her business model at Threads.
“The hardest part is really feeling like there’s no reliable trend that we can look to and make good solid plans as to what to expect,” she said.
When Threads opened last year, Baker had planned to buy clothing up front and sell it inside the store.
“We stopped buying clothes up front because we didn’t know if we were going to have any shoppers,” Baker said. “Instead, we changed it to become a donation center where people can donate items.”
Everything there is sold for $5.99 with .19 cents of every item going to a local non-profit.
The model has remained the same at Déjà Vu, but Baker has increased the store’s online presence and provided opportunities for shoppers to feel more comfortable.
“We started putting more of our inventory online, so people could actually buy it online,” Baker said. “We have started doing live shows through social media, showing what kind of products we’ve been getting into the store.”
Those people can then opt for curbside pick-up.
Both of Baker’s stores were closed from mid-March through April due to the pandemic. Baker has since taken a conservative approach to reopening while she deals with the realization that her public-facing staff is on the front lines. Store hours were reduced while hours for donations were increased to limit her staff’s exposure.
“Every day is kind of like a new challenge,” Baker said. “I really just never know if I’m going to be open the next month. If one of our employees or two of our employees get sick, I’m probably going to have to close.”
One of her biggest challenges, she said, is her staff and ensuring they stay safe.
“Every one of my staff members — except for one woman — came back,” Baker said. “But it’s very hard to ask them to work with a mask for their full shift and to kind of put themselves on the front lines.
“I would love to compensate them more for them doing a high-risk activity, which is just dealing with the public, but with sales down, how do I retain them? How do I give them incentives? How do I keep them here and keep them motivated to work when there’s always the ever-looming risk of infection?”
Baker said the summer months were solid, but sales were down from 2019 levels. In August, she saw a 25% drop, but things looked better in September when she was only down about 5%. She said she has noticed an increase in out-of-town shoppers, and while the number of locals have been down, she remains hopeful they will return.
“On one hand, we were super happy to have the out-of-town shoppers, but I also think that may have hurt us a bit with the locals,” Baker said of business this summer.
Baker said it also puts pressure on owners who are struggling to make ends meet and realize their employees are on the front lines and could be exposed to the virus.
She is looking forward to a time when retail will return to a new normal, whatever that might be. Until then, she plans to keep moving forward one day at a time and adjusting when needed.
“We’re lucky because this business is a little bit recession-proof because people will always need to have clothing,” Baker said. “Even if we’re in a recession, or in slower times, people can find affordable clothing in either store, and they can also make money at Déjà Vu, and that kind of helps with hard times because they can sell their clothes to make money.”
The Road to Recovery series is part of the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s ongoing efforts to report on how COVID-19 is impacting Steamboat Springs and Routt County. This series is supported in part by a grant from Google’s Journalism Emergency Relief Fund.
John F. Russell is the business reporter at the Steamboat Pilot & Today. To reach him, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.
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