Although the pandemic decimated the economy, some industries did experience an increase in retail sales during the downturn. Early winners for supply and demand were grocers and food delivery apps, wine and spirits retailers, Zoom and Netflix, and even bicycle and recreational vehicle dealers.
Most of these businesses were deemed essential, so they were permitted to continue operating within health-driven mandates. Some were able to provide virtual services or deliver goods to consumers holed up at home and practicing social distancing. Other businesses with models able to pivot found ways to benefit during the pandemic conditions. As the coronavirus split the population in unique ways, entrepreneurs in the right business at the right time remained profitable or even increased profits—an accomplishment sometimes accompanied by a feeling akin to survivor’s guilt.
Supermarkets and big-box stores benefited greatly from curbside pickup, home delivery and in-store sales as families sheltering at home stocked up on groceries and supplies.
“We were deemed essential, so we never closed and have stayed open,” says Jeff Wynn of Wynn’s Market, an independent grocery store the Wynn family has operated for more than 80 years in Naples.
Wynn said the local market experienced a double-digit increase in sales since the end of March even though the customer count was down. “People are buying more. The average ticket is up,” he says.
Rather than just stockpiling jars of peanut butter, cans of tuna and bags of snacks as they would have for a short-term hurricane threat, consumers preparing for the pandemic were able to buy fresh foods, meats and other refrigerated products in addition to staples.
Although a run on disinfectant wipes and cleaning supplies wasn’t surprising, shelves bare of toilet paper left folks scratching their heads. Because people were restricted from eating out at restaurants, they stocked up on items for cooking and baking at home, making it difficult to find items such as flour and yeast. Wynn’s Market went from selling a handful of yeast packets a month before the pandemic to having to ration them to one per customer.
“We couldn’t keep yeast on the shelf. That was one of the surprising ones,” Wynn says.
Despite national meat shortages and customer demand, Wynn’s kept proteins in stock. “We’ve done a decent job sourcing from different vendors,” Wynn says. “We had options. We had to use all of our resources to try to get in products for customers.”
The store just launched its online delivery service in January, which turned out to have been perfect timing to already have it in place for the pandemic.
Because of a steady increase in pickup and delivery demand, Wynn’s has employed four full-time, in-house shoppers and two or three delivery drivers, Wynn said. “That’s been a huge success. We went from two employees (for pickup and delivery) to six or seven full-time employees in April,” he says.
Downloads of grocery delivery apps such as Shipt swelled in the United States starting in the first half of March. Instacart saw downloads of its app grow by 218%, Statista reported.
Drinking at home increased nationwide this spring, as self-quarantined citizens loaded up on alcoholic beverages to help cope with anxiety and boredom. Wine and spirits in the U.S. had more than 25% and 30%, respectively, of volume growth in March and April this year over the same months last year, according to Nielsen Retail Management Services. This increase occurred from a jump in retail and online sales, despite a drop in consumption at restaurants and bars.
“Interestingly enough, I had an incredible May,” says Bruce Nichols, who owns and operates The Wine Store on Central Avenue in Naples. “I’ve had less people coming through, but they’re buying more wine at one time.”
Although people were coming in and buying $50 to $70 bottles on a more regular basis than normal, bottles priced $28 to $32 proved to be the sweet spot, Nichols said. “There was a definite shift to that average price. I had more people buying wines at a lower price point,” he says. “I’m bringing in more inexpensive wines, more value-driven wines.”
By mid-June, The Wine Store saw sales trend back to pre- COVID-19 numbers, Nichols said.
Sales also were in high gear this spring at bike shops in Southwest Florida. A shortage of bicycles occurred—because overseas manufacturing fell behind, even as demand rose among people look- ing for an easy way to get out of the house and exercise.
Fort Myers Cyclery quadrupled its year-over-year sales in April after doubling them in March. In addition, the shop has tripled its bike repair business, necessitating an increase in staff. “I did bring in more people, and was fortunate to be able to do that,” says Diane Holm, who launched the local cycle shop with her husband, Mike, nearly 25 years ago.
Although the store maintains multiple brands and more inventory than the average bike shop, the number of wheels remaining in stock this summer has been greatly diminished. “I usually keep a good 300 bikes in stock right now,” Holm says. “I probably have 50 left. We had fewer choices in June, which made it more challenging.”
The store saw a surge of interest in adult bikes and trikes, and especially kids’ bikes. Considering that the Christmas holiday is usually Fort Myers Cyclery’s big time of year for the sale of children’s bicycles, sales this spring were comparable to five or six Christmases, Holm said. “It’s been amazing,” she says.
BY THE NUMBERS
9% of SWFL executives report sales revenue increases during the pandemic
(Source: FGCU’s Regional Economic Research Institute)
39% increase in U.S. e-commerce sales March-May 2020
(Source: Klaviyo marketing platform)
450% year-over-year increase of national online alcoholic beverage sales in April 2020
(Source: Nielsen Retail Management Services)
Items seeing an increase in demand
Paper products: Toilet paper, paper towels, tissues
Cleaning supplies: Hand sanitizer, wipes, soap, alcohol, disposable gloves
Health care: Face masks, thermometers, Airborne, vitamins, pain relievers
Personal care: Nail care products, hair dye, fitness equipment
Baking items: Bread machines, bakeware, flour, eggs, yeast
Food: Hams, deli meats, bread, soup, pasta, beans, produce, bottled water
Office needs: Laptops, computer accessories, printers, desk chairs
Entertainment: Jigsaw puzzles, board games, Nintendo Switches, inflatable pools
Misc. items: Loungewear, sewing machines, pet supplies, water filters, bicycles, bidets