By now you have heard the statistics about how small businesses are struggling during COVID. Sales are down, costs are up, and overall there has been mounting stress faced by everyone, no matter the industry. What you may not have heard is how many Chatham-Kent entrepreneurs have been extremely innovative, resilient, and using their skills to meet the challenges head-on. One such business owner is Stephanie Simmons; a young, focused entrepreneur who owns two businesses in Chatham.
In addition to running a family with six children and giving back to the community through a variety of volunteer activities, most recently as a Board Member of the BIA and a team captain with The Gift, Stephanie also launched a business in November of 2019. Sugar That, a Body Sugaring Hair Removal Service & Boutique located at 103 King Street West in Chatham, brings a unique service to the downtown area and employs several professionals including her daughter, Sadie as Service Manager. Stephanie also owns Dimples Decor, a Home Staging & Interior Decorating Business, operated out of her home.
When the pandemic shut down businesses in March of 2020, Sugar That was only months old and was hit hard being primarily in the service industry.
"It was crushing, one day we were booking appointments and seeing more and more happy clients, the next day it was all put to a complete stop," said Simmons. "In many ways, it was more catastrophic than having a flood or fire because those are things I can actively plan for. This was just an immediate shutdown with no way of finding other options to provide service. We did try to offer space to local handmade vendors in our Boutique, but this proved difficult to maintain at the time."
"I put everything I have into my businesses and it's not like I have a big savings account to draw from, everything is invested in trying to make my businesses work. Even my home staging business went from multiple calls a day to just one call a week as everything hit pause."
Over the following weeks, Stephanie faced a choice that many business owners struggled with – close the doors or find a way to double down and make it work.
"I doubled down," said Simmons. "I developed cleaning and social distancing protocols to keep staff and clients safe. I stopped taking a wage so I could put it all into the business and make sure we stayed afloat. I also looked at the services we offered and decided to expand them so that we could provide clients with even more options for personal care. Now we offer lash extensions, lifts and tints, brow lamination, and tinting."
The passion to not back away was further emphasized just two weeks ago when Sugar That celebrated its one-year anniversary.
"Stephanie is an absolute inspiration. It's hard to describe just how difficult this year has been for her business and I'm sure she has had many sleepless nights worrying about her staff, her customers, and the impact that not making it work would have on her family. Still, she pushed through and is working harder than ever," said Taylor Hughes, Economic Development Officer with the Chatham-Kent Small Business Centre. "I hope that people reach out this holiday season and support her business by booking an appointment or picking up a gift card for a loved one. We have been preaching the need to shop local, #ShopCK because we know it helps keep businesses like Sugar That operating and able to employ people."
"My family and friends have been amazing and incredibly supportive," said Simmons. "My daughter Sadie and I are so proud to still be in business and grateful to our clients for returning when we re-opened and for the community continuing to support us. Many of our clients come in just to show support and we are thankful for them."
As 2020 starts to draw to a close, Stephanie is hopeful for the year ahead. Business has been picking up and people are adjusting well to the new safety measures.
"Absolutely I want to see COVID end, but in the meantime, we will continue our focus on providing service while being safe. We have been receiving positive feedback to our new services and I'm excited to see what is ahead," said Simmons. "I hope people take time this holiday season to support local businesses. It really does directly impact their families and their livelihood."
To learn more about Sugar That, visit them online at www.sugarthat.com.
- A new CIBC study finds that the majority (81%) of Canadian small business owners say COVID-19 has negatively impacted their operations and many (42%) worry about their viability or their business over the next year. However, optimism for the longer term remains strong with most business owners (76%) confident they can rebound after the crisis.
- The majority (85%) agree the uncertainty of how long COVID-19 measures and operating restrictions will last is currently the hardest aspect to manage. While this report is being written, positive news concerning the potential of a vaccine being made available in early spring 2021, may certainly alleviate some uncertainty.
- Many business owners (54%) say sales have dropped, and an additional 28% have had to temporarily shut down operations altogether. Most have made significant changes to weather the crisis including reducing operating expenses (34%), dipping into savings (29%), laying off staff (25%) and applying for more credit (15%).
Marketing and Communications Officer
Economic Development Services, Community Development
Municipality of Chatham-Kent
124 Thames Street, Chatham, ON N7M 5K8