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

The newly built Parkland Regional Library Services. (Photo Submitted)
Parkland Regional Library system moves into new offices in Lacombe

“Someone with a Parkland Library card can borrow from 350 libraries in Alberta,” Ron Sheppard

boating stock metro
New owners of public boat launch on Sylvan Lake plans opening for May 2021

The Launch at Sylvan Lake is located at 5220 Lakeshore Dr.

Alberta has 3,651 active cases of COVID-19.  (File photo)
750 new COVID-19 cases identified in Alberta Sunday

Central zone currently has 1,182 active cases of the virus

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine deliveres to Canada are being delayed because of complications at their European distribution facility. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Delays of Pfizer vaccine delivery to impact Alberta’s vaccination plans

Alberta has administered 74,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine so far

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

Lacombe is looking at its options for reclaiming sewage lagoons that are no longer needed. Vesta Energy Ltd. has signed a deal to use three lagoons to store water for fracking.
Map from City of Lacombe
Energy company to use former Lacombe sewage lagoons to store water for fracking

Vesta Energy Ltd. will pay Lacombe more than $100,000 a year in 20-year deal

Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said on Monday that11 more people had died from COVID-19, bringing the province’s death toll to 1,447. (Photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Eleven more Albertans die from COVID-19

There were 739 people in hospital, 120 in ICU on Monday

Indigenous people gather for a ceremony for Cindy Gladue held at the courthouse in Edmonton, Alta, on Wednesday, January 13, 2021. Bradley Barton, a 52-year-old long-haul truck driver from Ontario on trial for manslaughter, is accused of killing Gladue. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
People stand in support of mother as new trial gets underway in death of Cindy Gladue

Bradley Barton, a long-haul truck driver from Ontario, will now be tried for manslaughter in the 2011 death

(Photo submitted)
RCMP say ice climber seriously injured after reportedly falling 12 metres near Abraham Lake

Police say man’s injuries were serious but not life-threatening

U.S. military units march in front of the Capitol, Monday, Jan. 18, 2021 in Washington, as they rehearse for President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration ceremony, which will be held at the Capitol on Wednesday. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Biden aims for unifying speech at daunting moment for U.S.

President Donald Trump won’t be there to hear it

Facebook/ The Open Door 24/7 Integrated Response Hub- Wetaskiwin.
Wetaskiwin residents show support for 24/7 Integrated Response Hub

Wetaskiwin residents and City Council members showed support for Hub with positive signs.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa on December 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
No place for ‘far right’ in Conservative Party, Erin O’Toole says

O’Toole condemned the Capitol attack as ‘horrifying’ and sought to distance himself and the Tories from Trumpism

A passer by walks in High Park, in Toronto, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. This workweek will kick off with what’s fabled to be the most depressing day of the year, during one of the darkest eras in recent history. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
‘Blue Monday’ getting you down? Exercise may be the cure, say experts

Many jurisdictions are tightening restrictions to curb soaring COVID-19 case counts

Most Read