L&A County helps local businesses go digital in the COVID-19 era

Rob Plumley 
Special to the Beaver

Now more than ever, it is important for business owners to provide as many outlets as possible to sell their products and services.

When COVID-19 forced non-essential businesses to shut their doors to foot traffic in March, those that already had an e-commerce function incorporated into their sales model had an advantage. They already had access to their customer base 24/7. For these businesses, the unexpected closure still stung, but not as badly as it could have otherwise.

Many others were forced to seriously look at selling online as an option for the very first time. Santorini Mediterranean Grill in Napanee was one of many businesses that quickly adapted to these changes to make it as easy as possible for customers to purchase their product.

For owners Harold St. George and Nilojini Paramanathan, the crisis created an opportunity.

“Initially we had a traditional method for takeout orders. When COVID hit we started getting so many phone calls we couldn’t keep up with it,” mentioned Harold during a recent interview. “Customers were calling to pay with their credit cards and our bank told us we really should have a more secure platform.”

While there are many e-commerce websites to choose from, they ultimately chose Shopify, as they found their web templates were the most user-friendly to manoeuvre. Once they optimized their menu for takeout it became easy for customers to order their products and for staff to process the orders.

Adopting their new website, santorininapanee.com, has been a game-changer.

“It’s been a huge shift for our business. In the past, takeout was maybe 20 per cent if we’re lucky,” says St. George. “And now it’s shifted, where dining in is maybe 30 per cent of our total sales and 70 per cent is coming through our takeout.”

Having a functioning website is important, but you also need to market it effectively so people know it’s there for them to use. Facebook and Instagram are key for them in promoting their business.

“It’s not just having a site, its also having a strategic marketing plan to use social media and other elements that are part of a business’s online presence and create that together with your website.” emphasizes St. George.

As fall and winter bring with it more uncertainty, they feel more prepared for unanticipated changes now than they would have been without their new e-commerce website.

“We’re not sure what will happen. We’re focusing on what we have and what we’ve developed,” Paramanathan explains. “We went through the emotions of the uncertainty, the fear, but at the end of the day you’ve committed, you’ve invested in this business and you have to move forward.”

To help more businesses adapt to the new landscape, Lennox and Addington County’s economic development office is available to assist.

Business owner looking for assistance with their online footprint can contact L&A County’s digital specialist Steph Brown will assess the business’s online presence and work with them to enhance their digital capabilities. She will help them get started or upgrade their online selling features, assist with social media marketing and much more.

This is a free service offered to all Lennox & Addington County businesses. For more information visit www.lennox-addington.on.ca/business/digital-specialist.


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