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

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said the Canadian government should consider sanctions on the U.S. if they refuse to reconsider the decision to cancel the Keystone XL Pipeline. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Keystone XL officially cancelled, Kenney vows to fight on

U.S. President Joe Biden cancelled the presidential permit for the pipeline on first day of office

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said province’s test positivity rate for COVID-19 is steadily declining. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
669 new COVID-19 cases in Alberta, 21 additional deaths

COVID-19 test positivity rate down to 4.5 per cent

Kyla Gibson with her boyfriend Gavin Hardy. (Photo used with permission)
Sylvan Lake couple lose ‘fur babies’ to house fire

‘They were our world and nothing will ever replace them,’ Kyla Gibson said of her three pets

Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw reported an additional 456 COVID-19 cases over the past 24 hours. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Five new COVID-19 deaths in Central zone, two in Red Deer

Province reports 456 new cases of COVID-19

Businesses are getting creative to keep cash flowing. (File photo)
Central Albertan lobbying government to help those affected by CERB repayments

Catherine Hay says she received a letter in November saying she had to completely repay the benefit

A scene from “Canada and the Gulf War: In their own words,” a video by The Memory Project, a program of Historica Canada, is shown in this undated illustration. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Historica Canada
New video marks Canada’s contributions to first Gulf War on 30th anniversary

Veterans Affairs Canada says around 4,500 Canadian military personnel served during the war

(Thesendboys/Instagram)
Video of man doing backflip off Vancouver bridge draws police condemnation

Group says in Instagram story that they ‘don’t do it for the clout’

Toronto’s Mass Vaccination Clinic is shown on Sunday January 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Canadian malls, conference centres, hotels offer up space for COVID vaccination centres

Commercial real estate association REALPAC said that a similar initiative was seeing success in the U.K.

Kamala Harris and Joe Biden are sworn into office on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. (Saul Loeb/Pool Photo via AP)
Joe Biden has been sworn in as the 46th president of the United States

About 25,000 National Guard members have been dispatched to Washington

A memorial for the fatal bus crash involving the Humboldt Broncos hockey team at the intersection of Highways 35 and 335 near Tisdale, Tuesday, October 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Liam Richards
‘End of the road:’ Truck driver in Humboldt Broncos crash awaits deportation decision

Sidhu was sentenced almost two years ago to eight years after pleading guilty to dangerous driving

In this March 28, 2017, file photo, a dump truck hauls coal at Contura Energy’s Eagle Butte Mine near Gillette, Wyo. Public opposition to the Alberta government’s plans to expand coal mining in the Rocky Mountains appears to be growing. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Mead Gruver, File
Alberta cancels coal leases, pauses future sales, as opposition increases

New Democrat environment critic Marlin Schmidt welcomed the suspension

File photo
Wetaskiwin Crime Reduction Unit recovers valuable stolen property

Property valued at over $50,000 recovered by Wetaskiwin Crime Reduction Unit.

In this March 28, 2017, file photo, a dump truck hauls coal at Contura Energy’s Eagle Butte Mine near Gillette, Wyo. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Mead Gruver, File)
First Nations seek to intervene in court challenge of coal policy removal

Bearspaw, Ermineskin and Whitefish First Nations are among those looking to intervene

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic from Rideau Cottage in Ottawa on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic from Rideau Cottage in Ottawa on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau vows to keep up the fight to sway U.S. on merits of Keystone XL pipeline

Canada’s pitch to the Biden team has framed Keystone XL as a more environmentally friendly project than original

Most Read