When Ashley Satchell purchased Featherfields in April of 2019, she knew that she would face new challenges as a first-time business owner. Little did she know that COVID-19 would upend her plans, but a new program helping main street businesses expand their digital tools and technologies would leave her even better positioned for growth.
Originally from London, Satchell spent 14 years working in Toronto, before deciding it was time to come home and do something different.
“I come from a family of female entrepreneurs who have owned their own businesses, so that felt very natural to me,” says Satchell, who jumped into action when her mother mentioned that Featherfields, a mainstay in Hyde Park for over two decades, was for sale. “The fact that Featherfields was so established really kicked me into gear, and I took a chance and said, ‘let’s see what comes of it!’”
For the first few months, everything ran as expected. Satchell was welcomed by the store’s regular customers, who would visit religiously to pick up their bird feed and outdoor supplies, and started adding added her own personality to Featherfields’ gift and décor items. Then in March, the COVID-19 quarantine began, forcing the business to adjust.
“We found out that because our primary sales were animal seed-based, we were allowed to continue selling that,” says Satchell, “and we knew that would keep us going.”
Starting off with complimentary no-contact deliveries to her customer’s front porches, Satchell added curbside pickup when that became an option, and has now safely reopened her doors to walk-in customers.
But the downtime also presented an opportunity to invest in a much-needed revamp of the store’s outdated website and custom-built point-of-sale system, and thanks to the support she received through Digital Main Street‘s Digital Service Squad, Featherfields is ready to move into the digital age.
Satchell learned about the original Digital Main Street offerings through the Hyde Park BIA and says it was a dream come true. The London Digital Service Squad is overseen by the Hyde Park BIA, and consists of five digital marketing experts who provide free support to London BIA businesses. Since October 2019, the Squad has helped over 170 small businesses across London to access an online market and increase their digital footprint.
“When I first heard about Digital Main Street, it was perfect timing, it was exactly what we needed,” says Satchell. “I signed right up.”
“Featherfields is exactly the kind of business that Digital Main Street’s Digital Transformation Grant and Digital Service Squads services were created to support,” adds Karen Chalmers, Director of Partnerships at TechAlliance. “It streamlines the process for small businesses to build a stronger online presence and add ecommerce options.”
After obtaining the Digital Transformation Grant through the program with the help of a Squad expert, Satchell partnered with a Fanshawe student who was well-versed in the tools and knowledge that Featherfield’s would need, including choosing a web and ecommerce platform.
“I ended up going with Shopify,” Satchell explains. “I started revamping everything that we do — now my point of sale and my website will speak to each other.”
With the new Shopify-powered website and point of sale up and running, Satchell is looking to start online sales in time for the holiday shopping season.
“Not knowing what’s going to happen with COVID, and with the holidays being our busiest time of year, that’s something we’d like to do.” she says, adding that as a non-technical person, Shopify’s videos and advice have been tremendously helpful as she plans for the launch, sorting out the packaging, shipping, and other new tasks she and her team will be taking on.
When Featherfields starts taking online orders, the goal is not just to increase sales in London, but to reach a much broader market of bird lovers and gardeners, and that’s where Karen Chalmers thinks that the new Future Proof stream of Digital Main Street will be a perfect fit.
“She’s redesigned her website, she’s ready to roll out ecommerce to reach a much larger audience, but she needs those potential customers find her.” says Chalmers. “With Future Proof, entrepreneurs like Ashley will work with Business Transformation teams to design and implement digital marketing strategies that will increase her digital reach and online sales.”
“We are pleased to see the tremendous impact the London Digital Service Squad has had, and continue to have in helping BIA-businesses across the City to upgrade their digital tools and extend their reach to online marketplaces,” says Donna Szpakowski, CEO/General Manager of the Hyde Park BIA. “The London BIAs’ efforts to extend free digital services have allowed London’s Squad to assist over 175 businesses across London, and we are excited to see the Future Proof program join our ongoing momentum to further expand the services to our small businesses.“
Satchell’s early online efforts are already paying dividends, and she’s ready for more. “People are starting to come in and say, ‘I saw an ad for you’ and they are starting to recognize us.” she enthuses. “If we had this new website and ecommerce during COVID, we could have done even better, but it shows us now we’re moving in the right direction.”
Find out how your business can thrive online with help from Digital Main Street’s Ontario Grants, ShopHERE or Future Proof opportunities.
Register for a live session at techalliance.ca/dms!