To Kate Paynter, being a resale franchise owner means more than just owning and operating a business: it means caring for her staff and community.
When the coronavirus hit in 2020, Kate's retail resale franchises, which include eight Plato’s Closet® and 10 Once Upon A Child® stores, were forced to temporarily close following local guidelines. Due to the closures, Kate made the tough decision to furlough nearly 600 employees.
Despite the challenging circumstances, Kate eventually reopened all of her stores throughout Cincinnati and northern Kentucky and was able to make her regular charitable contributions to three local charities.
Learning to Adapt
When the news of the pandemic hit and business closures were enforced, Kate and her team had to make tough but necessary adjustments to the retail franchises.
"We were only able to keep our 23 store and district managers and office members on staff," Kate said.
While the stores were closed, each of Kate's managers worked from home and worked to adjust to a changing retail environment. With so many parents still needing inexpensive kids' clothes, Kate's resale retail franchise created an omnichannel experience for her customers.
"We created an online model pretty quickly and began selling clothes online," Kate explained.
Kate's teams utilized Facebook and Instagram to highlight new items each week and offer customers the ability to purchase clothes via online payments.
"Each day, our team went live on Facebook and showcased ten different products to our followers," she said. "All of the products would sell within minutes."
By creating an online platform to sell products, utilizing social media and adding curbside contactless pick-up, Kate and her team could cater to their customers.
"By talking to the customers online and waving to them as they picked up products, we spread happiness and joy — and we made them feel like they weren't alone," Kate explained.
During the furlough period, Kate and her team made sure to stay in contact with each employee and send out weekly updates. To show an extra level of care during the difficult time, Kate and her mom, Becky, sent each employee a $50 Kroger gift card and handwritten letter on Easter.
"We just wanted to let them know we were thinking of them, and we couldn't wait to see them again," Kate said.
Within three weeks, Kate hired most of her employees back. Shortly after that, the rest of her employees also returned to work. In fact, in 2020, Kate retained more employees than she has in the last six years.
"If I don't have happy employees, I'm not going to have happy customers or a happy community," she added.
A New Way to Cater to Customers
Once local restrictions were lifted, Kate reopened each of her 18 stores.
While new health and safety measures were in place, including mandatory face masks, social distancing and various cleaning procedures, Kate continued to operate her stores as usual.
"We try to keep things as normal as possible and not induce panic or fear. We want to spread joy, be positive, be happy and still give to others," Kate explained, "I think it's worked out for us.
We have a choice every day — we have to choose positivity."
Kate's Plato's Closet stores did exceptionally well upon reopening, with sales still up by 50% despite the closures.
While the overall customer count isn’t as high as it was pre-pandemic, Kate's Once Upon A Child Stores have also seen an increase in sales.
"We know moms are still having a hard time leaving the house due to watching the kids and virtual school, so when they do leave the house, they stock up and spend more," Kate explained.
All of Kate's stores are still offering curbside pickup for customers who are hesitant to shop in-store.
"We're just trying to help and be there for the families," Kate said.
Prioritizing the Community
While the pandemic changed how Kate managed her stores, it didn't stop her from giving back to her community.
In 2020, Kate made her regular contributions to the Sweet Cheeks Diaper Bank, March of Dimes and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
Each of Kate’s Once Upon A Child Stores collected diapers for Sweet Cheeks Diaper Bank, adding to nearly 50,000 diapers donated.
"It was hard for us, but we kept our word and donated as soon as we opened back up," Kate said.
With the cancellations of large gatherings and events, Kate wanted to ensure these organizations received the help they needed.
"We acted in faith and decided to donate because we knew these businesses needed us now more than ever," she explained.
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