How this small business owner found light in the dark of the COVID-19 pandemic

COVID-19 has forced 3 Steps Up Coffee House owner Vicki Kemp to change her business plan

3 Steps Up Coffee House owner, Vicki Kemp, posing with a charcuterie set at her shop in Whitby, Ontario. COURTESY WHITBY SUNRISE ROTARY CLUB - Facebook

The COVID-19 pandemic has given the owner of 3 Steps Up Coffee House in Whitby, Ont. a welcome break from traditional table service.

For the past 15 months, Vicki Kemp hasn’t been serving customers from her cafe on Brock St. North, she’s been busy preparing tea sets, charcuterie boards, and various other high tea items to sell online instead.

“I haven’t found it to be a challenge to be honest. I’ve found it much easier; way less stressful. Compared to what I was doing before, this is a breeze,” Kemp said in an interview with the Toronto Observer. 

“I’ve changed my whole business model. A huge part of my business was bridal showers and baby showers. So every Saturday and Sunday I was having upwards of 30 people for a shower. I can’t do that anymore,” she said. “I’ve also had to change what I sell. Before I was a cafe and I had a lot of table service, now it’s more product- oriented.”

The support of loyal customers is vital to the success of small businesses, which customers like Lori Lancaster feel is important. “Local businesses are the heart of each town. I do try and order takeout or pick up food as much as my budget will allow,” Lancaster said.

A high tea set that Kemp put together for one of her customers.

One way that Kemp is keeping her business flourishing is through the use of social media. She has set up accounts for 3 Steps Up Coffee House on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Kemp posts the tea sets that are available for purchase, then sells her products through the direct message feature on social media. This has allowed Kemp to maintain a steady income throughout the provincially mandated lockdowns. 

Although Kemp doesn’t mind the shift to online, she admits that it can be very taxing at times. Mother’s Day was busy. “Mother’s Day was good for me this year. The only challenge for me is that I don’t have any staff right now, so I turned away a lot of work because I physically couldn’t do it all myself,” Kemp said. 

The lockdowns were tough said Kemp. “I opened and closed, opened and closed, opened and closed. It got a bit frustrating.” Kemp’s shift to online was a strategic move to reduce her expenses during the chaos.

“Before (COVID-19) I was making a lot more money, but had a lot more expenses. My income dropped by 75 per cent, so that was a challenge. Trying to pay bills and laying people off — it was all challenging,” she said.

Kemp also took the opportunity to slow down and assess her business as a whole.

“I have to tell you, pre-COVID I was on a big hamster wheel. So once COVID hit it was good to step off and re-evaluate to see what’s working and what’s not. It was good for me and my creative aspects,” Kemp said.

Kemp was able to roll out new product ideas as well. “What I did before was a high tea, so sandwiches, quiches, stuff like that. I had to switch that format to a gift-type item instead,” Kemp said.

When the pandemic ends, Kemp says she is going to move to a smaller property and reopen her cafe for in- person service again, but she continue to sell online to reach a wider customer base efficiently.

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Posted: Jun 18 2021 3:37 pm
Filed under: News Shift to Online Spotlight On Small Biz