Stefano Franceschi of Gelato & Co. learned digital tactics during a three-part webinar organised by the Camana Bay property management team to help merchants through the business challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Rhian Campbell
Early this past summer, shops and restaurants across the Cayman Islands grappled with the effects of a pandemic that interrupted business instantly and shifted focus from weekly sales targets to daily survival tactics. Uncertainty loomed after months of curfews and curbside pickups, but the country’s resilience and low COVID-19 case numbers cast a light of hope across a business sector that relies on regular foot traffic.
In Camana Bay, shop owners and restaurateurs looked for ways to stay afloat, employing their own strategies while wondering how they would emerge from a crisis of this magnitude.
Linda Podlaski, Dart‘s senior vice president of property management, kept close tabs on the company’s 40+ retail tenants after the government-mandated lockdown and knew that, in addition to compassionate support and rent relief, they needed tools that enabled them to act, not react. With that in mind, Podlaski helped organise a Dart-sponsored, three-part re-emergence webinar that focused on how businesses could reboot their business models and reconnect with customers in a world changed by a pandemic.
“The desire to revitalise business was strong,” says Podlaski. “Many of our retail tenants were eager to participate in the re-emergence series, which took place in August when local shops and restaurants were trying to recover and also hoping to survive without the typical revenue generated by tourism.”
Led by Angel Cicerone, a New York-based small business mentor and author of “Growing Small,” the webinar series was designed to help Camana Bay retailers rethink all aspects of their operations while implementing their reopening strategies.
The webinar included lessons in marketing, social media, digital infrastructure, consumer trends, profitability and the use of technology and provided a “100 New Customers” challenge. It also reminded participants that “pre-coronavirus thinking won’t prevail in a post-coronavirus world.”
Podlaski says the series offered a broad range of tips and tactics from simple “Just Cleaned” tabletop cards in restaurants to profound analyses of business operations and customer relations.
“Tenants were offered a lot of practical advice, but they were also given a reality check when Ms. Cicerone challenged them to acknowledge problems that may have existed prior to the pandemic,” she says.
This struck a chord with Sara Lesieur, owner of Bedside Manor in Camana Bay.
“We can’t blame it all on coronavirus,” says Lesieur. “That was the biggest takeaway for me. Of course, the pandemic threw us some crushing blows, but the webinar forced me to examine difficulties in my business that were not necessarily caused by COVID-19. It encouraged me to think about how to solve these issues and to think outside the box.”
Lesieur says the lockdown pushed her to fast track a few things she had on the back burner, such as updating her website to provide online shopping, and the webinar series provided useful strategies and tactics to implement both online and in the store.
“I was inspired to further understand my customers and their journeys,” she says. “I also enjoyed studying the marketing funnel system that supports an increase in client base. Overall, I found the series quite useful and I’m very grateful to Dart for providing this opportunity.”
Connecting with customers
Stefano Franceschi, co-owner of Gelato & Co. Cremeria Italiana in Camana Bay, says the series offered an opportunity to learn about connecting with customers in refreshing, new ways.
“I enjoyed discovering digital tactics,” says Franceschi. “For example, we can offer people more in-depth information on the history of our products, including many speciality treats we import from Italy. Using a QR code is one way we can provide details on ingredients, origins or even cooking techniques. I think this can help people connect with their food in a more meaningful way.”
Like many small business owners, Franceschi was compelled to conduct his own research in an effort to outlive the pandemic and keep his business alive.
“There is a lot of information out there and I had to distill my research and figure out how to apply it to our situation,” he says. “When Dart offered the webinar series, I was very interested in learning about strategies that could actually help us. It was very helpful in the end and I’m excited to create new bonds with our customers.”
Franceschi also expressed his gratitude to Dart for its ongoing support.
“They are an excellent landlord.”
This article originally appeared in the October 2020 print edition of Camana Bay Times with the headline “Emerging from a Pandemic.”
About the Author
Andrea Lumsden has worked with Dart since 2013 and has been writing professionally since 2003. Graduating from University of Central Florida with a BA in Communication, Andrea has worked with clients across a range of industries, including financial services and real estate. Raised in Cayman by Costa Rican and American parents, she’s a New Yorker at heart who enjoys reading and travelling with her husband and three children. Find her in Camana Bay reading a good book under a tree near the water, savouring the breeze and sipping on a glass of wine.