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Posted: October 29, 2020

Navigating a business through a pandemic

By Erin Knutson

The Paw Shop in Cranbrook has persevered through an exceptionally challenging year by pawing away, one moment at a time, and striving to provide excellence to its loyal customer base throughout the pandemic.

“It was terrifying at the beginning, but we’ve learned how to pivot, adapt, and to make changes and run with them,” said owner Stephanie McGregor.

The beloved pet supply shop that offers eco-friendly and healthier alternatives to conventional brands has been a cornerstone of quality in the community for over eleven years.

Business is not slowing down according to the owner despite facing a global crisis. If anything, this year has catapulted the Paw Shop to a new level.

“Things have been steady, and we’ve learned new policies and procedures as a result of the pandemic,” said McGregor.

By responding swiftly to COVID-19 as it unraveled back in March, McGregor and her staff were able to re-evaluate and create a plan of action to mitigate potential fallout during a very uncertain time.

Following a tough decision to close the store for nine weeks, the Paw Shop jumped to the task of altering tried and true business practices to accommodate massive changes.

“It was a stressful time, and we reached out to other businesses to see what they were doing, but when we decided it was the right thing to close our doors, everything fell into place,” said McGregor.

From the beginning, the Paw Shop made it clear they were still in business.

“We wanted to create a happy, warm feeling for our customers via the web and to say we’re here, and we can provide assistance,” she said.

Along with store manager Tara Reid and reduced staff, McGregor forged ahead with a steady resolve to keep clients happy and well-supplied.

Reid was an invaluable asset to keeping things afloat and moving in the right direction, according to the pet maven, who said that she couldn’t have done it without the help of a great team.

“We started curbside service and pick-up with one to two customers at a time. Things were evolving daily, and we were grateful for the overwhelmingly positive response.”

Braving the virus’s unknowns and with caution, house calls became a regular event for the Paw Shop, with standard deliveries to customers as part of their new service model.

“It’s a heartwarming experience to help provide food and supplies to people despite the risks,” said the Paw Shop’s owner.

Pet suppliers and anonymous animal lovers have donated resources to those struggling financially to make sure pets and owners are secure.

McGregor credited those who assisted people needing extra help, touting the community’s efforts and togetherness throughout the crisis.

“You see the value of a network and the support of neighbours and friends – it’s been really positive.”

Facing long hours and new digital integration methods, including the development of a webstore, live Facebooking, and the use of social media channels to reach customers, the pet entrepreneur acknowledged the situation forced her out of her comfort zone.

“Everything is a work in progress. There was a quick transition period and a growing need to connect with customers by providing things like video calls for each product,” she said.

Live demonstrations put the business owner front and centre. She provided hour-long videos to her clients, connecting in an unprecedented way while engaging isolated customers and attracting new business through online visits.

In March, sales soared partly due to panic buying from concerned customers and partly due to the Paw Shop’s response in keeping up with orders and dealing with suppliers.

“Our industry has done well. It hasn’t been as impacted as other sectors. Being an essential service has helped to insulate the pet supply business,” said McGregor.

The pandemic spurred the Paw Shop to evolve in a way that might not have happened without its arrival.

For both owner and manager, the learning curve was immense.

Traditional ways of doing business through trade shows were missed. Still the pair, who took on the responsibility of running a successful business through tough times, encouraged the community to shop locally to keep things alive.

“The community banded together to support one another, and that is touching.”

As things continue to change, the Paw Shop is confident that what they have learned from the crisis will serve them well in the future and ensure their success, whatever may come.

The business has moved to a more normal pace in recent months, maintaining that what happened at their shop in 2020 and within the community will remain an enduring legacy.

“Everything culminated quickly, and we’re proud of what we’ve accomplished and the loyalty of our clientele,” said both McGregor and Reid.

Lead image: Stephanie McGregor (left) and Tara Reid face a brave new world at the Paw Shop in Cranbrook. Image credits: Erin Knutson

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