Pharmacist T’Bony Jewell works behind the counter at her local Clarksville pharmacy, Zoren Pharmacy & Gifts, on Nov. 19, 2020. (Photo: Jennifer Babich)
As a Clarksville small business owner and pharmacist, T’Bony Jewell knows the risks and rewards of trying to successfully launch a local storefront focused primarily on healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jewell started her store, Zoren Pharmacy & Gifts, off Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway in Sango, about six months ago.
“It’s been a challenge,” Jewell said, noting many of her customers are older and high-risk. Only recently has business picked up .
“We are just getting our legs under us,” she said.
With Cyber Monday looming and more shoppers moving to online purchasing as a safer shopping alternative, Jewell said the challenge of building her business during the pandemic is made harder by online competition.
Last year, Cyber Monday spending hit $7.8 billion, up from $6 billion in 2018, according to e-commerce tracker ComScore. That made Cyber Monday the second-most popular shopping day of Thanksgiving week last year, with half of all consumers saying they’d shop Cyber Monday sales.
“For most businesses, this (holiday shopping season) is the time we break even,” Jewell said. “This year, it’s particularly important because we’re going through the pandemic.”
But with limited staffing and resources, Jewell hasn’t yet been able to fully jump aboard the digital bandwagon.
“We’re trying to move in that direction,” she said, adding her training as a pharmacist does not translate into knowing how to set up and maintain an e-commerce site.
Jewell was hoping to have her online sales up and fully operational in time for Cyber Monday. Instead, for now, she’s settling on a simple website advertising her products.
Jewell knows it’s not the perfect solution.
She’s hoping her focus on providing excellent customer service and highlighting local products in her gift shop will pay off, even if she can’t yet make money online. She said she’s piggy-backing on the demographic that relies on the Clarksville Downtown Market in the summer months.
“Our approach is, if you come shop here, you’re also helping other, even smaller businesses,” she said, pointing out some locally-authored children’s science books and other local crafts and products.
Pharmacist T’Bony Jewell shows off a children’s science book by a local author for sale at her local Clarksville pharmacy, Zoren Pharmacy & Gifts, on Nov. 19, 2020. (Photo: Jennifer Babich)
Local craft vendor Kristen Tuberville of Roots Home Designs, dropping off a supply of homemade signs, said it’s a lifeline for her small business.
“It think it’s great local businesses are willing to do this,” Tuberville said.
Besides providing a place for local vendors to sell, Jewell’s also proud she’s able to go the extra mile for her pharmacy customers. That includes making personal calls when she hasn’t seen a regular customer in a while, or offering drive-thru services or home delivery for those worried about shopping in-store.
She hopes it’s enough to allow her to sustain and grow her business through the pandemic.
“I’m hopeful,” Jewell said. “I know more people are shopping local.”
But she’s still wary, given the challenges she faces.
“My biggest fear is letting staff go or shutting down, because this is my dream,” Jewell said, as she faces a make-or-break holiday season without the ability to sell online.
Some stores, like Buff City Soaps across the street, have been able to leverage their corporate websites for sales, even as they push local sales.
The Memphis-based chain, which specializes in handmade, all-natural soaps and bath products, puts a big focus on the importance of purchasing locally. Each store even creates their own scents catered to their community.
In Clarksville, that includes such locally-inspired scents as The Gov, The Greenway, and Country Queen, as well as the masculine scents Screaming Eagle and Commando.
An employee at the Clarksville’s Buff City Soaps makes some of their homemade soaps on Nov. 19, 2020. (Photo: Jennifer Babich)
Despite the ability to sell online, store owners say it’s in-person business that keep local shops afloat.
“We’ve been able to survive through curbside sales by those who’ve made our products part of their home,” said the owner, adding they’ve ramped up holiday production by adding another shift of workers.
They say despite being a chain, there’s a prevalent push to get people to shop local.
This digital dilemma doesn’t plague all small, local businesses.
Some local retailers say they’ve managed to make the most of online sales, including downtown Clarksville boutique The Copper Petal.
“We are lucky because we do have our online platform, and that’s pretty successful,” said manager Hannah Denson, who said despite the drop in in-store shopping they’ve seen this year due to the pandemic, online sales have remained strong.
Denson said it helps they started an online store two years before opening the brick-and-mortar storefront. She said it’s been a consistent money-maker for the boutique.
“Online sales have gone up, especially at the beginning of COVID-19 when we had to shut our doors. That was people’s only way of shopping,” Denson said, adding even since they’ve reopened, they’ve found the company website still serves an important purpose: creating shopping opportunities for residents that can’t leave home.
She said the boutique will offer Black Friday deals online, from Thanksgiving day through Cyber Monday.
“It just gives people more of an opportunity to shop,” she said.
Even more importantly, she said, it gives people the opportunity to shop online and still shop local.
“Our stuff online sells out really quickly,” Denson said. “I feel like people want an excuse to support local, whether it’s online or in-person, which is really great.”
Reach Jennifer Babich at 931-245-0742 or by email at [email protected]
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