Denison businesses share ways to thrive during COVID-19

Michael Hutchins
Herald Democrat
Ronelle Ianace poses next a sign highlighting curbside pickup. Ianace is one of two Denison business owners who have recently been recognized for business best practices during the pandemic.

Throughout the country, small businesses have spent the last year finding ways to navigate through the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic. For many of them, the process involved evolving and changing practices for how business is done through new marketing, curbside service and other efforts.

While many businesses will ultimately survive the ongoing pandemic, a select few have found ways to thrive and come out strong as the world returns to the new normal. Two Texoma businesses are sharing their stories of how they found ways to expand and grow their businesses during the ongoing pandemic.

Denison's Pop Around the Corner and Zelda Rose Boutique were among 12 businesses that were highlighted for their best practices and innovations during the pandemic as a part of the Main Street Now Conference. The two businesses were praised by Jon Schallert, a destination business expert, for their strategies that put them in a prime place to thrive once the pandemic ends.

“My goal was to highlight the most innovative business owners from North America who have experienced the pandemic and successfully emerged from it. I wanted to show owners how best to position themselves so they can succeed in the new normal of 2021 where every business can thrive,” Schallert said. “Pop Around the Corner and Zelda Rose Boutique are already ahead of the game with what they’ve done this last year under extremely difficult conditions."

Despite difficult conditions for many businesses, representatives for Pop Around the Corner said the gourmet popcorn shop saw the biggest month for sales  in December. March 2020 was the only month in 2020 that saw a dip in sales, owner Derrick Roberts said.

Roberts attributed the strong sales to target marketing and an increase in the store's online presence.

"Before COVID, we had a website, but we never really utilized it as far as ordering online and shipping out," he said. "It was mostly where you looked online and had a good idea of what kind of popcorn you wanted when you came into the store."

The popcorn shop initially focused on catering to its local clients through curbside pickup and local deliveries in Sherman and Denison. Roberts said he got the idea to expand his online marketing while watching news of closures and lockdowns taking place in larger cities like Los Angeles, New York and Seattle.

"My thought process was that if they aren't leaving their house and are ordering everything in, maybe I can send them some popcorn and it turned out to be very successful for us," he said.

Pop Around the Corner went into the pandemic with virtually no online sales to speak of. However, by year's end, Roberts said he was making 70 to 100 online sales a month. Now, the business is looking to expand its sales beyond the U.S. with international shipping.

Geared up online sales when Abbott put limitations of businesses early into the pandemic. Despite the shutdowns at home, Roberts turned his attention to cities like New York, Las Angeles and Seattle that had far steeper restrictions.

"Before all of this, I looked as us as if you are in Denison and need a snack, we are your place. Now, this has us more global," he said.

Like Roberts, Ronelle Ianace turned to the Internet when traditional sales began to falter in 2020. Unlike Roberts, she had already developed an online presence for her shop, Zelda Rose Boutique.

"I think it was very inspirational, because when I looked at downtown Denison, no one closed their doors. Everyone managed to make it through it," she said.

Through 2020, Ianace worked to expand the already existing online presence and refined how she does online sales. This included ample use of Facebook and other social media to get the word out about sales and other shopping opportunities.

"We had already had an online presence through Facebook and a Facebook group," she said. "What we did was expand that presence by offering more online live sales so people didn't need to come to our store to see what we had."

Early on in the pandemic, the Denison Development Alliance rolled out an incentive program aimed at helping businesses start an e-commerce platform. Zelda Rose was the only applicant to be accepted for an accelerator grant — funding focused on expanding its already existing platform.

The increase in online sales led Ianace to full upgrade her backend programs to allow for better invoicing and billing. The COVID-19 stimulus checks also helped the business continue in 2020, she said.

Other changes came from a boot camp that was led by Schallert about two years ago where he recommended focusing on what makes a business unique. Ianace said. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Ianace switched up her inventory to have a balance between gifts and clothing. She has also started a side operation for party cup printing.

Both Roberts and Ianace said they do not see all of the COVID-19 changes going away once the pandemic passed. Some of the things people have gotten used to will continue for the foreseeable future, both said.

The increase in online shopping and curbside delivery will likely continue to be a part of how Americans do business, they said.

"Especially if they are moms with kids in the backseat, something like this just makes life a little bit easier," Roberts said.