There have been a lot of stories of doom and gloom written during the past ten months or so, particularly when the focus of the commentary has been retail. Store closures and bankruptcies. Insolvencies and deferrals. It seems at times as though nobody within the industry has escaped the clutches of the pandemic unscathed to this point. Despite the comprehensive and indiscriminate nature of the virus’ effects, however, it’s clear that the greatest impacts have been felt by small businesses operating on Main Streets across the country. Significant challenges brought about by lockdowns and social restrictions have severely hindered their efforts, resulting in dramatically reduced footfall to their stores and a pervasive uncertainty surrounding their future. However, with every grey cloud that descends, adding to the murk of our current situation, there is also hope for brighter days to come. And, providing kindling for this hope, according to Mark Whyte, Executive Vice President, Canadian/International Sales at Silver Jeans Co., is the spirit of entrepreneurs from coast-to-coast-to-coast who refuse to give in to the challenges, and instead continue innovating to succeed during these difficult times.
“2020 was an extremely challenging year for retailers right across the country,” he recognizes. “Lockdowns and restrictions on the amount of people retailers can allow in their stores as a result of social distancing protocols have obviously put a big strain on operations for many businesses, large and small. It’s amounted to less revenue being brought in and fewer opportunities to engage with consumers. But the biggest challenge that retailers have faced is in dealing with the fact that life and business are not the same as they once were. Everything has changed dramatically, and the consequences of this change have hurt a lot of retailers along the way. What hasn’t seemed to suffer, however, is the resiliency and creativity of the small business community in Canada. Those who have survived have shown incredible ingenuity and are leveraging every means by which they can in order to continue engaging with their customers and making sales. They aren’t rolling over and dying. In fact, many are taking this opportunity to strengthen their service and offering, expanding the ways they do business.”
The Strength of Small Business
The resiliency and creativity that Whyte refers to are evident throughout the small business community, right across the country. From the development and enhancement of website and e-commerce platforms and the clever use of social media to inventive virtual personal service and private appointments, as well as many other ingenious devices in between, the innovation that’s been conjured up by small business owners during this difficult time for retail has been nothing short of remarkable and should serve as something of an inspiration for others within the industry to draw from. Their imagination and vision have allowed them to parry much of the brunt brought about by the pandemic and resulting restrictions, enjoying a bubbling of support from patrons within their local communities. And, it’s not the only support that some small businesses are receiving.
Company’s like Silver Jeans Co., who recognize the value of small businesses and the importance of their strength in relation to the health and vitality of the communities in which they operate, are also doing what they can in order to aid and encourage the success of Canada’s entrepreneurs. For its part, the well-known, Winnipeg-based producer of high-quality jeans and other denim products, recently formed unique partnerships with dozens of smaller boutiques across the country, providing them with an exclusive line of jeans to sell to customers of their stores.
For Us, Not Them
The jeans, which are not available at any of the country’s larger retail mass merchants, provide independent businesses with a top-quality, limited-run product to put on their shelves. As part of the partnerships, the boutiques that Silver Jeans Co. are working with also receive significant margin from their sales. It represents a massive boost for their businesses and affords them an opportunity unlike many others. But, as far as Whyte’s concerned, the company, which has strong relationships with large department stores in the United States and does a lot of business with Mark’s, Bootlegger, and other major jean players in the country, also benefits from the partnerships it’s formed and the investments it continues to make with small businesses.
“This is a product line that’s been designed and produced specifically for our small boutique partners,” he asserts. “It’s not featured or available anywhere else. It’s a product that’s strictly and exclusively between Silver Jeans Co., the boutiques that we work with and their clientele. In fact, internally, and among our customers, we refer to the collection as ForUs. We haven’t branded the product as such. In fact, there is minimal branding included. It’s more of a codename. The creativity, inspiration, and innovation that it involves is just for us, a collaborative effort between Silver Jeans Co. and our partners. It’s not a collection or product for big business. We recognize our history and the success that the company has enjoyed through the years. We’ve evolved and have grown. But we’ve never lost track of where the company’s come from. And we saw this as an incredible opportunity for us to return to our roots and to create something specific for the specialty boutique channel.”
The Right Thing To Do
It’s a considerably generous business venture that the renowned denim producer, and its privately-held parent company, Western Glove Works, have taken on in an effort to support the tremendous innovation and endeavour of small business in Canada. It’s also a gesture that will hopefully not go unnoticed by others within the industry, one that could perhaps spark a surge of other similar retail partnerships meant to help ensure the continued health and wellbeing of independent retail in the country. But, as Whyte points out, the ForUs partnership program was simply something that Silver Jeans Co. felt compelled to initiate as a company, a quality that he says runs through the entire organization.
“2020 wasn’t the best year for retailers in Canada. Despite the vertical or category, the impacts have been immense. And for smaller businesses that are without the resources and capital of larger merchants and chains, the effects have been even more challenging and problematic. Because of everything that the industry’s experienced over the past ten months or so, we just saw ForUs as the right thing to do. It’s something that we all believe in and is a trait that has existed within the company throughout its history. We recognize that independent businesses and the smaller boutiques are the lifeblood of the Canadian communities across the country. They are critical to not only ensuring the financial health and wellbeing of the areas and neighbourhoods that they serve and operate in, but they also help to make up the fabric of the communities, lending to their character and energy. We understood the situation that we’re all currently working through as a time for retailers to pull together and to support one another. And we hope that our collaboration with our partner boutiques is helping to do that in some small way.”