By the time the doors of their stores started to open again, art materials retailers had implemented sound solutions to keep their employees and customers safe from the coronavirus.
Using social media and signage to get the word out, they reduced their store hours, limited the number of shoppers, and installed plexiglass shields at their cashwraps. In the meantime, they started posting their inventory online. Orders for art materials were accepted in every way possible, and with customers browsing and/or ordering from home, purchases and pickup remained speedy and safe.
Retailers have posted successful solutions like these and many others on namta.org. By as early as March 18, the website had become a hub for COVID 19 facts and work recommendations to help its members make critical decisions about their businesses. Topics ranged from safety precautions and tips for customer communications, to facts from the CDC and W.H.O., the U.S. Small Business Administration, the U.S. departments of Labor and Treasury, and retail councils in the U.S. and Canada.
“We included every resource we could find, including information from retailer and supplier members about their current state of operations,” explains Leah Siffringer, NAMTA executive director. “We continue to collect updates and post them each week on our website and social media platforms, and email them out to thousands of people.”
A challenge for the association has been keeping up with how fast the world continues to change, she says. “But with a supportive board and a great staff we have been able – as they say – to ‘pivot.’ When we look back on this time, I think we will actually find that a great deal of positivity resulted.”
Another challenge was coming up with a virtual concept to fill the void created by the cancellation of Art Materials World. For many NAMTA members, the annual tradeshow is the only in-person opportunity they have each year to present or experience what’s new in the industry. It’s also their only chance to network with their colleagues, and to conduct business and socialize.
To help meet all those needs is “NAMTA Connect” with its three virtual “connection” opportunities available at namta.org.
The Gallery is a forum for sharing, Leah explains. Members can post messages, ask for help, share their ideas and much more.
The Café, available on the Zoom platform, is for virtual networking like roundtable discussions, and for social gatherings. For instance, plans are underway for a virtual happy hour for NAMTA’s Next Generation members, to replace the live version at Art Materials World.
The Theater, also available via Zoom, is a series of one-hour educational sessions scheduled for every other Thursday afternoon. The kick-off was a session on how to safely re-open a store, presented by retail gurus Kizer & Bender. (Visit namta.org for the full schedule.)
“A big need among retailer members is information on online selling, so we’ll be setting up some sessions for them through The Theater and Zoom,” Leah adds.
The Theater will also present Demo Alley, virtually. “Demo Alley was set to debut at Art Materials World this year,” she explains. “It offered each exhibitor a three-hour time slot in which to conduct a live demo in a theater on the tradeshow floor. It had a great response from suppliers, and time slots were nearly sold out by the time we cancelled the show. Exhibitors can sign up now to present a virtual demo.”
The good news for the industry going forward is the resiliency of NAMTA members, concludes Leah. “We have seen so many examples of how our members have found creative ways to keep their business going through the toughest of times. From our conversations with them, we see how positive they remain, and hardworking.
Zoom in the Time of COVID
Zoom came to the rescue when face-to-face conversations were required but in-person was impossible. As a result, daily downloads of the app had increased 30 times year-over-year, by April. Today, as we maintain our social distance, many of us will continue to use Zoom for business meetings, church services, holiday gatherings, weddings, happy hours and online learning.
Internet entrepreneur and broadcaster Mark Hurst suggests another application: talking to customers to find out what they need from your business going forward. “If you have the time, right now is the moment,” he wrote in his newsletter.
Draw six to eight people from your existing customer base and invite them to join you for a 30-minute videoconference on Zoom, WebEx or another platform. “Don’t write a script with pre-baked tasks and questions that make assumptions,” Mark suggests. “Instead, focus on listening to each person. Based on your research, do what most teams fail to do: give them what they want.”