On Friday nights, Franklin businesses owners Pam and Jerry Falk host a happy hour on Facebook Live to show off the inventory from their new boutique in Berry Farms.
Wine in hand, Pam Falk describes a series of outfits for viewers, who can place an order in the comments. Since customers can’t come to the store, the Falks simply created a makeshift Home Shopping Network.
“I really explain the clothing and how it fits” Pam Falk said. “I'll show the outfit. I'll show the details. I'll talk about the material ... They understand when they get it what the fit's going to be. I come as close to telling them how it's going to fit as I possibly can without actually putting it on their bodies.”
The Falks moved to Franklin from Minnesota last year. They wanted to escape the harsh winters. In January, they used some of their retirement savings to start a Mainstream Boutique franchise.
The store opened on Jan. 20. The next day, the Centers for Disease Control announced the first confirmed case of the new coronavirus in the U.S.
For the first few weeks, the business was a success. The couple easily meeting their sales goals and building a strong customer base. They were starting to build momentum. On March 6, one day after state officials confirmed the first case of COVID-19 in Tennessee, Williamson Inc. hosted a ribbon cutting to celebrate the new business.
“Barely 10 days later, the door's got a sign on it and we're closed,” Jerry Falk said.
Mainstream Boutique franchises don’t have online stores, but the Falks started using short Facebook videos to show off their inventory even before the coronavirus pandemic arrived in Tennessee. In March, she started making longer videos and created the Friday night happy hour event.
The outfits in the videos are numbered to make it easier for customers to order. Pam Falk describes the clothing while Jerry Falk monitors the live comments and answers any questions. The boutique continues to receive orders from videos three to four days after posting.
“What works in the videos is definitely that interaction, people commenting. They really love feeling like a part of the evening,” Pam Falk said.
Total sales have taken an enormous hit because of the virus outbreak, but the Falks said the videos have been a success. The store hasn’t had any days without a sale, and the videos have also opened up a new market. The boutique normally caters to locals only, but now the Falks are shipping about a third of their orders out of state. Locals can pick up their orders at the curb.
Sales bottomed out when the store closed, but have started to rebound as more people tune into the videos. About 2,300 people watched a video on March 17. The most recent Friday night happy hour video had about 4,300 views.
Jerry Falk sees the success of the videos as a silver lining.
“The fact that this happened may have caused us to get a bigger following faster on a social platform,” he said.
After seeing the response online, the Falks plan to continue making at least one video per week even after they reopen.
Last week, Gov. Bill Lee announced that restaurants and retail stores would be allowed to open on April 27 with limited capacity, extensive cleaning protocols and masks for employees.
The Mainstream Boutique plans to open its doors on May 4. The store will limit the number of customers to 50% of normal capacity and clean frequently. Employees will wear masks and steam clean clothes after someone tries something on.
The store will go back to its normal hours, except on Monday and Tuesday. On the first and last hour of those days, the store will be reserved for customers who want to set up a private shopping time. The Falks hope that will make it easier for people to shop if they are nervous about coming in during normal hours.
Those restrictions and lingering fears about the virus will make the return to business a long and difficult process. Jerry Falk said he expects to worry about finances for at least a year, but he remains optimistic.
“We're starting to see so much support from the ladies in this community,” he said. “If it keeps going the way it's going, we'll still struggle, but we'll survive it. I think a year from now we'll still be here. But it's going to get tight. It's going to get tight both on a business and personal level."