From bricks to clicks: retailer goes digital with women-led business funding

Sisters Jackie McCreary, Geri Maisonneuve and Paulette Kupnicki own From the Heart card and gift shop on Ottawa Street in Windsor

Women owned small businesses are disproportionally affected by COVID-19. The pandemic has severely hampered industries such as retail, hospitality and personal services — sectors where women entrepreneurs are overrepresented. RE3: Rebuild, Reopen, Revive is a program helping women-led businesses to sustain and grow their operations during these challenging times.

RE3 is a FedDev Ontario government funded program that launched in 2020 to provide performance-based contributions of up to $5,000 to assist over 700 women-led small and medium-sized businesses.

The WindsorEssex Small Business Centre has delivered $1.8 million in RE3 funding to 384 businesses under its service area from Windsor to Toronto. Twenty businesses from Windsor-Essex received $94,400 in RE3 funding to rebuild, reopen and revive their businesses.

Sisters Geri Maisonneuve, Jackie McCreary and Paulette Kupnicki co-own From the Heart at 1356 Ottawa St. in Windsor. Through the RE3 program, the card, giftware, and wig boutique was able to create an e-commerce website and upgrade its computer hardware. The owners credit the financial assistance of RE3 for helping them make the leap to digitizing their business and gain new customers.

“With this (RE3) funding we were able to purchase a new POS system along with the hardware which we’ve never had before. This has provided us with an efficient way to track our customers and our inventory. As well, this funding gave us the opportunity to update our website and, along with that update, we now have an e-commerce site which is one of the biggest bonuses for our business,” said Maisonneuve. 

From the Heart has been in operation since 1989, and the owners have never experienced such restrictions on their business as what has happened during the pandemic. Prior to March 2020, their storefront operations were very heavily focused on walk-in traffic, with little to no online presence. 

Maisonneuve and McCreary knew that without pivoting their business would suffer by not having the infrastructure to support online sales. Understanding that web development and marketing costs come at a cost, they applied for RE3 and were able to not only rebuild, but grow their business. “We are now able to stay visible to the public by bringing our store into their homes especially now while they’re unable to enter our location,” explained McCreary. 

With the new e-commerce website From the Heart has been able to grow their customer base throughout Ontario and across Canada. This increase has allowed the small business to bring on two part-time employees to assist with the store operations.

Maisonneuve credits new POS hardware for helping them generate over $6,000 in online sales and 500 new customers in just three months. In addition to online sales, the website acts as a catalogue to cater to their clientele that don’t shop online. “We’ve also had many, many sales from people who don’t like to shop online but were able to look through our website and then call us with their orders,” said Maisonneuve.

To aid in their digital transformation, Maisonneuve and McCreary are working with local marketing company Mainstream Marketing. This partnership will continue through 2021 and illustrates the economic impact of the RE3: Rebuild, Reopen, Revive program. The non-repayable $5,000 contribution not only directly impacts the business it was granted to but also the local suppliers and service providers contracted to assist businesses with their RE3 projects.

The sisters recall the anxieties and uncertainties 2020 brought, but they note that without the RE3 program they would not have been able to grow and develop an online presence.

From the Heart is a client of the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Centre and has previously received support and mentorship through RE3: Rebuild, Reopen and Revive. You, too, can receive support in launching or expanding your small business. Contact us for more information.