For nine years, Jaimie Nicole Scheiner had built up her namesake jewelry brand, operating out of a Coral Gables office/showroom. Although she had a functioning e-commerce channel, most of her customers came to her showroom or shopped in one of the 70 boutiques where Jaimie Nicole jewelry was sold. To promote her brand and generate new customers, Scheiner participated in more than 40 events every year, including holiday bazaars, school functions and charity events.
But the new pandemic reality forced Scheiner to lean hard on online sales. Scheiner invested heavily in social media, creating joyful colorful posts that reflected the Jaime Nicole brand. Personal showroom visits were replaced by Instagram Lives, Zoom gatherings and Facetime chats to “keep our face in front of [people] and show that a human is here to help,” she said. The company, a team of six, added curbside pickup and local delivery options, too. “Our entire business model is based on happy customers.”
While the signature Jaimie Nicole stackable bracelets and charm-loaded necklaces may not seem like necessities when outings are severely limited, a funny thing happened on the way to COVID despair: Sales surged.
Sales of her jewelry, priced about $50 to $250, are up about 148% year to date, driven largely by e-commerce because the brand’s other channels — sales events, wholesale and in-store — dropped sharply. Scheiner said she has generated 2,200 new online customers during the pandemic. “People are really looking for escape and some joy and that’s what we are trying to be for the world.”
Smaller businesses like Scheiner’s feel the impact of the COVID crisis much more than big brands. Scheiner’s quick pivot to online paid off, and fortunately, she hasn’t suffered supply chain setbacks, with 75% of her jewelry created in house.
That’s not the case for a lot of small businesses, though. Small orders aren’t always high priority with factories and vendors.
In February, Patricia Siman, founder of new Miami fashion startup Half Asleep, was cruising on adrenaline. Holiday sales of her environmentally conscious sleepwear exceeded her expectations and she graduated from the 5-month WIN LAB accelerator for female entrepreneurs, eager to put new lessons into action.
Little did she know that within a couple of months, her carefully researched and executed supply chain in El Salvador would break apart. It wasn’t easy finding a factory that would make small batches and meet the environmental and ethical manufacturing standards she demanded, and then her factory was shut down by the pandemic crisis. That would be temporary, Siman thought, but when the factory eventually reopened, its focus was on its bigger clients, leaving Half Asleep out in the cold.
Lesson: Always have a backup supplier.
Fortunately, Siman still had stock to sell. Eventually she found a new factory — no easy feat without attending trade shows and visiting sites — but too late to put out new stock and styles for this holiday season. Fans of Half Asleep’s soft, naturally dyed fabrics and feminine style, will need to wait until 2021 for new colors, a long-sleeved option and more loungewear styles — all based on customer feedback.
Siman has also made website changes for a more seamless shopping experience, but she is looking forward to getting back to doing trunk shows and trade fairs once the pandemic crisis abates. “Once they feel how soft Half Asleep is, they are more likely to buy.”
In addition to online, Half Asleep’s products sell at Pivot Mkt, a store within The Citadel in Little Haiti that features 30 sustainable fashion and beauty brands. Pivot also recently launched an online site, pivotmkt.com, to connect and promote sustainable brands globally and more than 100 companies have signed on.
Some new fashion and beauty companies are popping up in spite of — or because of — the pandemic crisis. Gaby Garcia, a designer at a loungewear company who was let go during the pandemic crisis, decided to launch her own brand of tees, sweatshirts and loungewear with her sisters Tere and Selma. From Dec. 11 to 13, The Tee Sisters will be part of Brickell City Centre’s “Pop-Ins” that have been featuring small local brands throughout the holiday season, including Cibelle Eyewear, Normou and Link’d.
Amid the crisis, still other startups saw a need — and opportunity.
While on-demand deliveries for restaurants, groceries and alcohol have surged during the pandemic, local beauty and hair care stores have had a tough time. Miami technology entrepreneurs Mike James and Ian Grant II saw an opportunity to help them and boost technology in the beauty supply industry; many stores do not even have websites or point-of-sale systems in place.
They launched WaySlay, a website and app available on iOS and Android, in June, starting with one store, Fancy Beauty Supply in Overtown. WaySlay now serves five stores in Miami-Dade and Broward and is adding more every month. The app has 700 downloads and about 250 active users so far.
The vision: a nationwide digital marketplace that is easy for a store to join and use — pictures, videos, reviews, ratings and web stories could all be added over time. “We’ll be able to recommend products to their customers in a way they haven’t been able to before… We are going to help stores help themselves,” James said.
Over time, WaySlay’s data could be a resource for trends in hair care. The co-founders are identifying other ways that technology can help these stores run more profitable businesses, Grant said. “What we have here is a gap, a big opportunity.”
Nancy Dahlberg can be reached at [email protected] and @ndahlberg on Twitter.