The Southern Marketplace – Learning to Survive A Pandemic

When Lorena Foley developed the idea for a retail boutique in Bourbon County, KY, her business plan didn’t have a plan for a store without customers. Because of the recent health crisis, she was forced to close her doors – leaving the business without its primary component – sales.

The Southern Marketplace began 5 years ago this week as a gift, clothing and home décor boutique located on Main Street in the small town of Paris, KY. The business was originally named “Just Simply Southern” but was changed at the beginning of 2020 to its current moniker – The Southern Marketplace. As the year began, Lorena thought the name of the business would be the biggest thing to change.

Just a few weeks later, Kentucky ordered all retail storefronts to close their doors to customers to reduce the spread of the deadly virus. For Lorena, this incredible, indefinite obstacle also created an opportunity. “It has forced me to do sales in a different way, because I can’t open my doors”. Foley had a website for her store, with e-commerce for online sales, but she admits it was a struggling endeavor. “I’ve always had an e-commerce site, but never had the opportunity to do anything with it. As a small business owner, I do everything myself. Because I’m not a tech person, updating my site with quality e-commerce platform was always the lowest priority. But now, this situation has forced me to learn how to interact with my customers that way.”

Looking for how to pick up the pieces from the closing of her store, Lorena began looking for help. “I find myself always wanting to learn more. So when I see someone who is doing business correctly, or has a great business model, I’m always reaching out to see what I could do better. That’s what led me to Community Ventures. Mustard Seed Hill in Millersburg is a beautiful, classy tradition, and that’s what first caught my attention.” Foley reached out to Community Ventures to say that she needed help. After reaching out, she connected with Shawn Burns, the President of Operations at Mustard Seed Hill. Shawn and Lorena began working on a new customer outreach model, one that prioritized a strong online presence for her business. They also enlisted the help of Mark Johnson, President of Art Inc. Kentucky, to help Lorena with product photography. Mark took pictures for her, but also gave her pointers on how to take better products pictures herself. “Mark was able to explain the difference between photography for social media and e-commerce. Now I think my pictures are turning out much, much better.”

They also shot a video to help increase engagement with her audience of customers. “The video pushed me way out of my comfort zone. But it did help. Previously, my videos got 300-400 hits, but the video I did with Shawn reached nearly 4,000 people.”

As a result of an improved website with improved e-commerce, a new commercial video that she can share, and a better understanding of how to create an online web presence for her business, Lorena is beginning to see improvement. “I have noticed an increase in online sales since the pandemic began. We’ve had an increase in sales, and the video and pictures have helped. I’m receiving a lot more phone calls. It’s not where I want to be, but it’s enough to survive.”

Lorena remains optimistic about the future of her business, and is already making plans for future marketing efforts. “I would like to do more shows outside Kentucky to get my name out there. I also want to invest in paid advertising to draw more people to my website.” While some of these changes were brought about by the pandemic, Lorena believes many were necessary changes. “I see that what I’m doing now – I really needed to be doing all along. So I will keep going.”

While this was her first time working directly with Community Ventures, she had been inspired by the company for many months now. “Last Fall, I attended the Women in Business Expo & Conference hosted by Community Ventures and the Women’s Business Center of Kentucky. I got a lot of helpful information from that conference. Even if you’re not in need of help or looking to change things, it’s still good to learn something different. I went to the conference and put myself out there and gained a lot of valuable information, and I also made a lot of contacts with other business owners at the event. I am always looking for new inspiration and [the WBC Expo} certainly sparked that.”

For Lorena and The Southern Marketplace, the challenges remain the same but she now is better equipped with the right tools and a strong game plan to keep her business going through these difficult times. “When you need help, ask for it. Community Ventures is there to provide anything you need.”

Visit The Southern Marketplace today!

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