A childrenswear shop that began selling homemade girls’ clothes from a market stall in Rugby over 40 years ago is surviving a second lockdown thanks to a move online.
Linda Malik runs the family business, Eliza Doolittle Childrenswear, that was set up by her mother, Isabel Gill. Initially trading on the town’s market, several premises later, it is now located on Albert Street and sells brands that are not available elsewhere on then high street.
With the rise of online shopping in recent years, Linda said she was aware of the importance of having a digital presence, but admitted that it was her self-confessed generational lack of knowledge of the internet that meant it was not her top priority — until she was forced to close her shop when the Coronavirus pandemic forced the country into lockdown in March.
At the start of lockdown, she took the opportunity to sign up to a free series of digital workshops delivered by Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce and Stories Marketing, on behalf of Warwickshire County Council through the Warwickshire Towns Network Programme.
The online workshops shared insights into how businesses can use social media and other digital tools to drive traffic to their website.
With the help of a separate council grant, Stories Marketing created an e-commerce website for the Eliza Doolittle shop and provided training in managing the site independently.
And after receiving some practical tips, as well as some creative ideas for social media posts, it now has over 1,000 followers on a previously dormant Facebook page and is offering delivery, click and collect, and even hyper-local home delivery on orders placed through its website.
Linda said: “I was way behind the starting line as far as the internet was concerned. I set up a website and a Facebook page in 2016 but they were information only, I didn’t sell from them.
“It just wasn’t at the forefront of mind that I needed to try to be actively selling online. I had no experience or interest in the internet if I’m honest, I’m the wrong age for it to come naturally to me.
“But business has changed so much in recent years and having a traditional shop on the high street just isn’t enough anymore. Lockdown proved that. I knew I had to learn because with the way things were going, it’s essential to have more of an online presence.
“I went to two workshops and the practical tips and creative advice just gave me the confidence to have a go. The people running the workshop, Sam and Emma from Stories Marketing, had retail experience themselves, so getting working examples of what they’d done made them easier to understand.
“Before the workshops, I could just about post on social media and I thought that was enough, but nothing really happened. It is demanding because the advice is to be active all the time, and to interact with customers.
“Now I engage with my followers on Facebook just as I would if they were customers in my shop, and I’ve had more enquiries and more sales, so it has paid off.
“It’s not easy and feels like a full-time job in itself, but during both lockdowns it had meant I was able to continue to trade while my shop was closed.
“I’m trying to continue to improve because I know that I can’t rely solely on passers-by the shop. It’s so different to when I started out in the business but digital is the way forward and you have to adapt if you want to survive.”
Keely Hancox, of the Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce, said: “The digital training was designed to support businesses in building a presence online – from creating awareness on social media through to selling via the web.
“And when lockdown happened, businesses who had taken part in the training really saw the benefits and Eliza Doolittle Childrenswear is a great example of that.
“The move online hasn’t replaced its high street presence but is complementing its physical store and we are delighted the courses have helped the business through a very difficult period.”
Cllr Izzi Seccombe, Leader of Warwickshire County Council and portfolio holder for economic development, said: “It’s so encouraging to hear of businesses that are adapting so quickly during the pandemic. We were delighted to be involved in the scheme and set aside funding in our recovery plan to support online and digital training, particularly for the retail market. Small businesses are integral to the local economy and this training will stand them in good stead not only during the pandemic but also in the future.”