This article is part of our series “COVID-19: 1 Year Later,” exploring the ways COVID-19 has affected and changed daily life over the last year. For two weeks, we surveyed our readers on how COVID-19 has affected them. Read our survey results here. Today, we are sharing the story of how one local small business has weathered the pandemic storm.
Small business has taken a hard hit during the pandemic, but thanks to the support of the community buying local, many have survived the lockdown. Retail shops are also finding inventive ways to work around supply chain issues and manufacturing slowdown. Tin Cottage, founded in 1998 by Marianne DeMeyers, is one example of a locally owned business that survived due to customer support, quick thinking, and creative ingenuity.
Tin Cottage, located on Main Street in Downtown Franklin, is a gift shop that offers what their website dubs, “a happy little shop where customers [can] find friendly conversation and joyful gift items, sparking smiles and laughter.” Something much needed during these trying times.
“Just prior to reopening [after the shutdown], a very dear friend and mentor called me to check in,” said Maryanne DeMeyers. “She said, “I know this is unsolicited advice, but do you want to hear it.” I answered, ” Yes, of course!” She replied, “Act like nothing happened.” She was referring to the shutdown, not the pandemic. I didn’t clearly understand that message, but I trusted her intuition. So, we reopened, acting like nothing had changed. And the response to reopening was customers saying, ” I just want a little bit of normal,” “I just want to feel a little joy again,” “I love that I can come in here and nothing has changed.” What I then understood is that when people go through a very stressful time, they try to look for small things that remind them of a happier, or at least, a less stressful time.”
Marianne and her husband, Greg, who manages their Columbia store opened in 2019, didn’t go into the pandemic completely unaware. They tried to understand what was happening, and thought back to other times the public was asked to take personal responsibility for their health during Swine Flu H1N1, SARS, and previous pandemics.
“I remember wearing masks on flights during H1N1” said DeMeyers. “This is what government officials and health experts had asked of the public in the past. It wasn’t until we were forced to shut our doors, that we knew this was going to be different than pandemics of the past.”
The forced shut down of any type of small business can be tragic. Both owners of the business and staff members rely on the business’ income. During the forced shutdown at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, there were ongoing expenses with no income. It was concerning.
“We were not dealing with just a pandemic,” said DeMeyers, “but with the very survival of our family business. Luckily, after more than 20 years in business, I learned to put away a little safety fund, but I … never dreamt that we would be dealing with something like this.”
On the first day of shutdown, the DeMeyers jumped into action. They spent the first week adding hundreds of products to their online shop; upped their social media to let all of their followers know that they could still get their Tin Cottage gifts online; and added free local delivery, curbside pick-up and same day shipping.
“And it worked,” exclaimed DeMeyer. “Our local community stepped up to help their locally owned businesses!! We are incredibly grateful and felt the blessings of that. We spent several hours per day delivering in Williamson, Maury and Davidson Counties…[W]e will never forget the outpouring of love and encouragement from our friends and neighbors of this community. Also, members of the local business community shared encouragement for each other. We often shared what other neighboring businesses were doing during the shutdown. And I was seeing that happen on social media every day with other locally owned businesses. We have an incredible community!”
Tin Cottage also took the opportunity to support healthcare workers. They started a promotion called, “Lift Up Local Box”. It was a box of gift items that could be delivered to a client’s home, a friend or relative, or shipped to someone far away who needed a lift.
“It was filled with items purchased from our locally owned neighboring businesses to help boost their sales during shutdown,” explained DeMeyer. “It was very successful, as we delivered/shipped hundreds of boxes per week. We also gave a box to a healthcare worker for every 10 sold. People nominated their favorite healthcare worker through social media. The response was unbelievable!”
Still, there are stumbling blocks. The supply chain has been greatly affected by the pandemic, and, the DeMeyers anticipate it is only going to get worse in 2021.
“My husband, Greg, and I came from corporate product development backgrounds,” noted DeMeyer, “so we are very aware of the import supply chain. A big issue is that our largest ports don’t have workers to unload cargo and containers are piling up. Also, as the price of gas increases, we will have issues with OTR trucking. Shipping prices will take a huge increase this year. Gas prices have increased 45% over the last four months. We track this closely as it directly affects industry pricing…We began buying in early last year to cover any in-stock issues that could arise. We continue to try and stay ahead of the curve. There are certainly issues now with getting product into United States ports.”
They have also worked to increase their offering of locally made products, and have been successful at that. However, local makers also depend on imported components for their products, so they are having some issues there, too. Still, Tin Cottage has stayed open, and made adjustments to keep staff and customers safe.
When they reopened after the shutdown, they enforced social distancing; added increased cleaning policies and hand sanitizing stations; and created plexiglass barriers at checkout, which still stand today.
“We still offer local delivery,” said DeMeyer, “however we have found, in most cases, people like to get out of the house post lockdown. So, our guests can still get their favorite products in a manner to their comfort level. But our messaging has never changed. People need comfort and consistency in times of unrest. We don’t pretend to be the healthcare industry, the government, or in any way, experts on what is happening with the pandemic. But what we love to do is give people a little glimpse of happiness, joy or even a giggle or two. It has been our message and remains that way.”
Tin Cottage Locations:
334 Main Street | Franklin, TN | 37064 | (615) 472-1183
803 S. Main Street | Columbia, TN | 38401 | (931) 548-2141
Learn more at tincottage.com.