- Associated Press - Saturday, April 11, 2020

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (AP) - Nikki Kettelkamp had plans to launch a website for her store, SCOUT of Marion, by the end of the year. But when Iowa expanded an emergency health order closing most retail stores during the growing coronavirus pandemic, she wanted a way now to continue to serve her customers.

“I’m a bit late to the online game just because I really wanted to focus on providing a great in-store experience,” said Kettelkamp, whose store offers personal care and home items. “We’ve had so many people, even before COVID-19, wanting us to sell online. This sped up that whole process.”

Small business owners are taking action to try to adjust to the disruption. Retailers across Eastern Iowa with plans to eventually sell their products online found themselves quickly launching new websites and harnessing the power of social media as ways to generate some revenue while their storefronts remain closed to the public.

Kettelkamp sells SCOUT’s products over its Instagram account at @scout.of.marion and its Facebook page and ships free to customers for now. A website created with Squarespace will launch mid-April.

Before SCOUT closed because of coronavirus, Kettelkamp said launching an online store would have been like opening a second location.

“It’s a lot of work,” she told the Cedar Rapids Gazette. “The biggest thing is I don’t want it to distract from what I feel is the experience I want to offer that’s personalized at the store level.”

The Czech Village-New Bohemia Main Street District launched loveyourlocaliowa.com last week that lists information from over 100 businesses and nonprofits offering remote services during COVID-19.

Moss: Plants, Gifts, Decor, a plant and gift shop with locations in Czech Village and Iowa City, put up an online store quickly after closing its storefront.

Anne Armitage, co-owner of Moss, said the business had planned to roll out a website through the platform Weebly over the summer, but coronavirus forced it start selling products online now.

Moss is offering shipping and curbside pickup to customers who buy through its website at mossymoss.com.

“It’s something we’ve been aware we needed for such a long time, but when you’re operating retail hours, so much of your energy is focused on being open and operational. It’s hard to do the extra things like building an online store,” Armitage said.

March, April and May are typically busy months for Moss, but Armitage said the store is selling only 20 to 30 percent what it normally would this time of year.

The online store keeps cash coming in, but it’s not the equivalent of in-store revenue, she said.

“This is going to be a real challenge for a lot of people, and some people aren’t going to be able to weather this,” Armitage said.

Found + Formed, a vintage clothing store in the Czech Village, is having success selling its one-of-a-kind items through Instagram stories on its Instagram at @foundandformedshop. The store is offering free delivery in Cedar Rapids and Marion and discounted shipping everywhere else.

Abigail Rawson, owner of Found + Formed, said Instagram stories, which are online only 24 hours, creates a sense of urgency for customers.

“With vintage, it’s one of a kind. If it’s gone, it’s gone forever. Each piece is unique,” she said.

Revenue, however, has been “pennies in comparison” to selling items in-store, she said.

“It’s pretty devastating,” Rawson said. “Czech Village is just starting to get more attention and momentum was going. We were optimistic for a busy spring and summer.”

Velvet Coat, a clothing store with locations in Iowa City and Des Moines, launched a site last week using the platform Shopify at velvetcoat.us.

The website was in the works before coronavirus shut down the storefront but it was launched early, owner Michelle Galvin said.

“It was a direction we were moving anyway, so it feels good to have it done,” Galvin said.

Galvin wanted to expand Velvet Coat online to be available 24/7 to customers. While she doesn’t think it will replicate in-store sales, every little bit of revenue helps, she said.

“I don’t think our online store will ever replicate our in-store,” she said. “It’s all about the connection we make with people. The store, that’s where the heart and soul is.”

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