December 22, 2020 | HartBeat of Main Street Grant Program: Spotlighting The Owl Wine Bar & Home Goods |
The exterior of The Owl Wine Bar & Home Goods. Photo credit: Molly Alexander
Owner: Molly Alexander
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your small business.
I moved to Elgin, TX in 1990 to become Elgin's second Main Street Manager. In 2012 my partner Gary and I had a terrific idea for a retail store, and while we never aspired to be retailers, we realized that if we weren't willing to invest in downtown retail, who would? I got the idea of our first store after being part of a Texas Main Street Resource Team for Victoria, Texas. I was the retail expert on the team and at the end of each day the entire team met at a downtown wine bar to discuss our findings. The wine bar was a great concept but not fully executed, and I couldn't get it out of my head. By the end of the weekend, I had written the business plan and six months later we opened The Owl Wine Bar & Home Goods Store - a combination wine bar and home goods store where you can sip and shop. In 2014 we opened our second store, G&M DRYGOODS, a combination candy bar and mostly Made-In-America gift store. In addition to our two stores, both Gary and I have full-time jobs. I work for the Downtown Austin Alliance as the Executive Director of the DAA Foundation.
How has your business been impacted by COVID-19?
Like most small retail businesses, our stores have been hit hard by COVID-19. We closed the stores in March and re-opened in June. Today we are doing about 40% of pre-COVID sales. We launched our first online store at the end of April and quickly pivoted to a smaller team focused on creating new ways to sell our inventory, building our social media channels, and creating new partnerships. It's been hard and rewarding all at the same time. Our customers have been terrific they have supported us and kept our spirits high. Our team has done an amazing job, stepping up to the plate and giving more to us than we could have expected - a true blessing and we are full of gratitude.
How are you using the grant funds, and how will they help your business?
We are super excited and grateful to have received the grant! We plan to intentionally curate and rebuild our online store. We created our online store as a DIY get it done project in April and we will be using the funds to purchase equipment - new computers, photography equipment and a light box, hiring a content writer and working on our SEQ so our website can really help us grow. We always envisioned our online store to be our third storefront, but we never had the capacity nor expertise to do it. The pandemic forced us to figure it out and now this grant allows us to add more intention and curation to the site so we can remain competitive.
Are there any other ways you've pivoted your business in response to the pandemic?
I feel as if we are constantly pivoting our businesses through the pandemic. We rewrote our business plan and revisited our vision and mission statements. We hired a social media expert to build our social channels, we built our online store and we began to support other businesses through social media, information sharing and working together more cohesively. We created new partnerships with some of our vendors and started online virtual wine tastings with vineyards around the world, created new ways to support our local non-profits, and started to advertise in small but impactful ways.
What advice would you give to small business owners who are struggling right now?
Focus on what is working as opposed to getting mired into what is not working. Focus, focus, focus and trust your instincts. Bring in a small support team for motivation, help and advice. Finally, I focus on gratitude daily - I am so grateful to be alive, to be healthy and to still have a businesses with a wonderful team - this keeps me going when I have bad days.
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