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

Toronto’s Mass Vaccination Clinic is shown on Sunday January 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Interior Health reports 2 more deaths, 83 new COVID-19 cases

Health authority also identifies new virus cluster in Fernie

South Columbia Search and Rescue called in the Nelson Search and Rescue and Kootenay Valley Helicopters to provide a long line rescue. Photo: BCSAR submitted.
Long-line rescue needed for injured hiker near Trail

Members of South Columbia and Nelson SAR and Kootenay Valley Helicopters did a long-line evacuation

A sign indicating a COVID-19 testing site is displayed inside a parking garage in West Nyack, N.Y., Monday, Nov. 30, 2020. The site was only open to students and staff of Rockland County schools in an effort to test enough people to keep the schools open for in-person learning. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
4 more deaths, 54 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

This brings the total to 66 deaths in the region

Surrey RCMP are investigating after a pedestrian was struck and killed at 183 Street and Highway 10 Friday night. (File photo)
Castlegar Sculpturewalk 2020 – 10 Year Anniversary Sand Sculpture. (Submitted/CBT)
CBT arts and culture grant program now accepting applications

Apply through the Kootenay Columbia Cultural Alliance

British Columbia Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on as Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry addresses the media during a news conference at the BC Centre of Disease Control in Vancouver B.C. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
B.C. announces 485 new COVID-19 cases, fewest deaths in months

‘The actions we take may seem small, but will have a big impact to stop the virus,” urges Dr. Henry

Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News
Search called off for small plane that went down in rough water south of Victoria

Plane bound for Port Angeles from Alaska believed to have one occupant, an Alaskan pilot

Royal B.C. Museum conservator Megan Doxsey-Whitfield kneels next to a carved stone pillar believed to have significance as a First Nations cultural marker by local Indigenous people. The pillar was discovered on the beach at Dallas Road last summer. Museum curatorial staff have been working with Songhees and Esquimalt Nation representatives to gain a clearer picture of its use. (Photo courtesy Royal BC Museum)
Stone carving found on Victoria beach confirmed Indigenous ritual pillar

Discussion underway with the Esquimalt and Songhees about suitable final home for the artifact

Former Vancouver Giants forward Evander Kane is seen here in Game 7 of the second round of the 2009 WHL playoffs against the Spokane Chiefs (Sam Chan under Wikipedia Commons licence)
Gambling debts revealed in details of bankruptcy filing by hockey star Evander Kane

Sharks left winger and former Vancouver Giants player owes close to $30 million total

Othman “Adam” Hamdan, pictured in front of Christina Lake’s Welcome Centre, was acquitted of terrorism related charges in 2017. He has been living in Christina Lake since November 2020. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Man acquitted on terrorism charges awaits deportation trial while living in Kootenays

Othman Ayed Hamdan said he wants to lead a normal life while he works on his upcoming book

B.C. Premier John Horgan wears a protective face mask to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 prior to being sworn in by The Honourable Janet Austin, Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia during a virtual swearing in ceremony in Victoria, Thursday, November 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Premier Horgan calls jumping COVID vaccine queue ‘un-Canadian’

Horgan says most people in B.C. are doing their best to follow current public health guidelines

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, and Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart share a laugh while speaking to the media before sitting down for a meeting at City Hall, in Vancouver, on Friday August 30, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
Vancouver mayor, Health Canada to formally discuss drug decriminalization

Kennedy Stewart says he’s encouraged by the federal health minister’s commitment to work with the city

Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops. (Dave Eagles/Kamloops This Week file photo)
COVID-19 outbreak at Kamloops hospital grows to 66 cases

A majority of cases remain among staff at Royal Inland Hospital

Most Read