Editor’s Note: This post is in first-person form, in the words of Suzanne Eblen, owner of The Old Lucketts Store, as told to Northern Virginia Magazine Digital Editor Holly Gambrell. The conversation reflected in this article has been edited for length and clarity.
“When it first became extremely obvious that everything was about to change, businesses were ordered to close and folks ordered to shelter in place, it was incredibly scary and unnerving. Everything that I had built for the last 24 years was just stopped. My staff was gone, Route 15 was empty, our customers were gone.
I woke up at 4 a.m. one morning in the beginning of it all and decided to listen to business leaders and get advice from the best. It was Mark Cuban who said, ‘Pivot your business and your energy if you have a brick-and-mortar store and remain relevant … Do not just shutter the place and disappear for a few months and think you’ll be able to come back.’ I thought that was extremely sound advice, so with the staff and the customers gone, we had two major assets in our pocket: 35,000 Instagram followers and an awesome group of vendors that are usually up for just about anything I throw their way.
We attached a Shopify shopping cart to our Instagram account and started featuring items customers could purchase online. The very first item, a gorgeous farm table, sold in minutes. We were like, ‘Wait, what just happened?’
Then we posted the next, then the next and the next. From massive dining tables to beautiful cupboards, all of the amazing finds our customers look forward to purchasing at our store were now in their living rooms every day. It has gotten to be very fun and exciting for our customers to see what’s going to show up. We implemented a system where our vendors can photograph items from their homes, get them featured online, then bring the items to the shop once sold. Customers could then come by for curbside pickup any Thursday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Now, I’m feeling really happy and optimistic! What started out as a worst-case scenario has turned into a whole new model that we really had never considered before. I never considered the aspect that people would come pick up online purchases; I thought I would have to ship, and I was not interested in getting involved in that.
During normal times, we may have had 50 to 100 folks in per day during weekdays, and several hundred per day on the weekends, seeing the full scope of all the shop has to offer, which can be overwhelming. Now, we have 35,000 people getting to view one featured item at a time, in the comfort of their homes. This has been extremely helpful to our customers that live an hour or more away. They love the store but don’t get a chance to get out too often. Now, we’ve come to them. Most of our customers have wholeheartedly been in favor of us keeping this model when the pandemic is over.
The store is currently open Thursday through Sunday for curbside pickup, and we are able to let customers in if we keep it at 10 or less at a time. When things open up a little more, we will continue to keep the number of customers in the store low. We’ve also opened up outdoor checkout along with our curbside pickup.
I’m prepping stations around the store, compelling customers to use their head and their heart when it comes to the pandemic. I’ll supply masks and hand sanitizer and let customers know we’re all in this together and need to take care of each other—it’s just common sense.
I believe we’ll be in this situation for a while, so I want Lucketts to have an approach that we can stick with for the duration. We will be open Thursday through Sunday, with limited staff, and will stay focused on the online sales and keeping everyone safe. One big change is that I’ve gone back to being a counter girl at my own store and I have to say, it’s really taken me back to my roots, interacting with my customers, getting to know the nitty-gritty of our operation. It’s been a wonderful feeling to be so hands on.
Everyone has been overwhelmingly supportive. I couldn’t be happier or more grateful for how things are going.” // The Old Lucketts Store: 42350 Lucketts Road, Leesburg
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