By the second week of March 2020, Yaletown’s newest premium women’s wear boutique in Vancouver, BC, West of Woodward, had completed its build. The launch was set for March 15th.
Then the news broke: due to COVID-19, social isolation and physical distancing were going to become the new norm for the foreseeable future.
Owner Sean McGarva chuckles at the thought of it. “On the 14th, all the isolation advisories came out. So, no, we never properly opened. But we were ready that day with a fully inventoried, functional store.”
Imagine needing to pivot your business before it even opens. Sean was in that situation. Fortunately, this quick-thinking entrepreneur is buoyed by a truly positive attitude. He quickly landed on two solutions.
The first, naturally, was online sales. It was always going to be part of the business model, so the company had this capability more or less right away. Since West of Woodward is part of a group of retail businesses called the Fold Retail Group, they could leverage Fold’s e-commerce site to sell their products. Currently, all products (not just West of Woodwards’) on that site are 25% off.
The second solution was appointment-only shopping experiences for one to two customers. Sean understandably takes pains to emphasize the thorough safety protocols West of Woodward has created to facilitate these experiences. The idea is that one shopper, perhaps with an appropriately physically distanced friend, has exclusive access to the fully sanitized store. They try things on, enjoy complimentary wine, and make contactless purchases.
Naturally, the challenges of rolling out these two unanticipated approaches during a pandemic were considerable. But the wins have also been gratifying.
In terms of the appointment-only shopping, Sean has to market the experience in such a way that people understand the measures West of Woodward is taking to ensure safety. However, shoppers who have participated are big fans.
“They are blown away by how much it helps their day,” says Sean. “They get the store to themselves. They get to play their own music. They get all the wine they like. And they get two change rooms on either side of the store so they can maintain distance but still visit with a friend.”
In terms of online sales, Sean has to navigate a market that’s geared towards clothing made as cheaply as possible, at a high social and environmental cost. And West of Woodward’s collection of premium denim and luxury staples is anything but “fast fashion.”
Indeed, Sean is deservedly proud of his boutique’s ethical stance of sourcing local, handmade, ethically produced clothing. West of Woodward only considers clothing from brands that are forerunners in paying fair wages and reducing environmental costs. That means smaller profit margins for the boutique, but according to Sean, the investment into a more just and sustainable world is worth it.
“Denim, which we specialize in, can consume a lot of water. So, we work with companies that are innovative about reducing the amount of water they use to wash the denim. And they also have to be good at filtering toxins out of the water they use and reintroducing it safely into the water supply.”
Even though online shopping is flooded with clothing, customers who have placed their orders are loving the experience. Part of that experience involves Sean personally delivering their purchases to their doorstop and letting them know he’s dropped it off. They appreciate the safety-conscious personal touch—which definitely extends to the packaging.
“We’re so fortunate that we created our shipping boxes through Great Little Box Company (GLBC) because online shopping has unexpectedly become such a big part of our business.”
Sean credits the custom printing inside the box with providing “the personal touch of a beautiful aesthetic.” He’s grateful that GLBC and he took their time to design a box that now makes receiving a West of Woodward package a special moment.
“We’ve definitely gotten some love from customers on social media who have posted pictures and videos of their ‘unboxing experiences.’ That’s really helpful marketing for us.”
Any time our packaging solutions factor into a business’ resiliency during COVID-19, we are overjoyed. Check out West of Woodward today. Support a company that’s doing the right thing for the planet and textile workers—and making life during a pandemic that much more delightful.