When COVID-19 lockdown happened, it forced a lot of businesses to rethink how they operated and how they were reaching customers.
For many, digital enablement was one of their biggest challenges – they had limited online presence and no way to operate eCommerce, meaning a complete stand-still when physical premises were forced to close.
Immediate upskilling and capability support was required, which is why the Government stepped in with the COVID-19 Business Advisory Fund. Administered through the Regional Business Partner Network (RBP), this funding was targeted to small to medium business owners, providing them 100% funding for capability support in areas such as HR, cash flow and digital enablement.
One of the eligible businesses to receive funding was Bethlehem Health Shop. Owner Jo Douglas says the support was “invaluable” in getting their business back on their feet.
We asked Jo a few quick questions to find out how she was impacted and how the support assisted her during tough times.
There is still COVID-19 Funding available for eligible businesses. Click the button at the bottom of this story to find out more.
Tell us about where Bethlehem Health Shop was at pre-COVID: What were some of the challenges and the achievements you had had over the past year?
I purchased the business from the previous owner in August 2019; she had owned the store for 15 years. In December before lockdown the business invested in a new Point of Sale system to streamline the ordering and stock management, and in February we updated the signage on the outside on the building
How did COVID-19 impact your business, particularly heading into lockdown (the weeks prior) and in the subsequent Alert Levels?
Leading in to lockdown was a crazy time for us. There was a lot of panic buying, particularly of immune support and natural sanitising products. We had to close when we went into Level 4 and as natural health was not considered an essential business were not even able to sell online until they loosened the restrictions around essential goods. At Level 3 we were able to offer click and collect from behind a counter and screen over the door, but even then our income was considerably affected. We were very grateful for the wage subsidy and a kind landlord
What was your initial reaction? What were some of the thoughts / emotions you had at this time?
A bit flabbergasted that natural health retail was not considered an essential service! So many of our customers would only ever use products such as herbs, homeopathy and nutritional supplements to support their health conditions and during this stressful time they needed to access this support more than ever.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced?
When we finally were allowed to sell some essential products online, our website was not up to speed to enable us to do this quickly and efficiently. It also couldn’t ‘talk’ to the computer programme we used in the shop so the stock management became a bit of a nightmare the more products we did get loaded to the site.
How did you hear about the Chamber’s RBP services?
My husband talked to someone local who worked for the chamber and suggested they might be able to help us in some way
How did you find the process and what was your experience of this?
Initially I exchanged a couple of emails to ascertain exactly what we needed support with. I then chatted in more detail with a Growth Advisor on the phone and she gave me detailed information to help me decide who I wanted to work with. The process to apply for the funding was very easy and streamlined.
What work did you undertake with Daisy Digital Marketing and how did this help you / your business?
COVID forced us to revaluate our website and ability to sell products online. Obviously getting someone to build a new website that could integrate with our retail system was a massive undertaking time and money wise, and we just didn’t have the funds to do this having being closed for so long. But I did have capable staff who had the time. We chose to build a Shopify site from scratch, but needed some support with the technical things we couldn’t figure out for ourselves.
How did this help alleviate some of the stress and challenges you had?
Daisy Digital were amazing support and rather than doing everything for us. They guided us through the process and gave us the knowledge to do things ourselves. Our whole team now have new skills to add to their CVs!
How did you find the process of working with them? Will this be a long-term working relationship?
Although they are based in Matamata, working with them over Zoom suited us well. They are Shopify experts so anytime we need help with something regarding our site we can schedule another Zoom meeting. We also used some of the funded hours to get some feedback on how we were doing with our social media pages and won’t hesitate to work with them again should we need more support with marketing.
What will be the long-term effects of COVID-19 for your business? What are some challenges you face now and may face into the future?
Like a lot of businesses we are all adjusting to doing business in a new way. Having a new website with more than 3000 products has been a positive thing to come out of COVID for us. We sell so many unique natural health products all in one place and are now reaching customers all over New Zealand.
Many products have become unavailable in the short term due to various reasons related to COVID so making sure we are able to supply top quality well-researched products continues to be a challenge for us… though because we employ qualified and knowledgeable staff we are able to find alternatives pretty quickly when we need too.
Anything else you would like to add?
We have definitely seen an increase in our customers wanting support for anxiety since COVID especially for children and we expect this may be ongoing for a while yet. In this case we recommend coming instore rather than buying online as it can be hard to know where to start and chatting with one of our staff can ensure you get the most beneficial products for your individual needs.
We would also like to express our gratitude for the help and funding we received from the Chamber’s RBP programme, it was invaluable to us!