As the COVID-19 pandemic settled in and companies sent employees scattering to work from home, Hamster Eastern Office Supplies in Bridgewater has been adapting its business model to offer an even more personalized and flexible service to meet the changing needs of the community.
With workers and their families social distancing at home, the retailer on Logan Road has expanded its supplier base to offer a variety of new products and changed its payment and delivery systems.
It's for that reason the business was nominated under the Shine On campaign.
"Although staff has been reduced, father and son were there daily from 9-5 offering a 'different' type of service but complete none the less. Access to masks, wipes and hand sanitizers became a new product line," Barbara Conrad wrote in nominating the company.
She would know; Barbara's husband Lynwood, and son, Adam, are the ones who carried on in the family business after she and another employee were laid off because of the pandemic.
The Shine On campaign, orchestrated by LighthouseNOW and its parent company, Advocate Media Inc., aims to showcase outstanding businesses in Lunenburg and Queens counties that are making a difference in their communities during these trying times. The businesses have a chance at being highlighted in the company's newspapers, as well as winning $3,000 worth of free advertising for when the economy picks up.
People were welcome to nominate their own businesses in the campaign.
Hamster Eastern Office Supplies quickly moved into expanding its stock of hand sanitizer and wipes, to include items such as masks and face shields for the first time.
"It's new to us because we had to get all new suppliers, " Lynwood told LighthouseNOW. "That helped quite a little bit actually, before we closed."
The store is also offering puzzles for those looking for an activity while social distancing, though Lynwood admits they're not a huge seller. What has proved popular are its adult-oriented art supplies. Although the store has always offered them, "we did quite well with that," said Lynwood. "People were looking for that because, of course, they had to keep busy somehow."
The store has been closed for more than a month, during which time the Conrads offered curbside and parking lot pick-up and free shipping. Previously, for an order to warrant free shipping, its value had to be more $40 or more.
"We wavered that. There's like no minimum now at all. We just ship it, and they get [the shipping] free of charge," Lynwood told LighthouseNOW.
He reported that no customers abused the generosity and mainly took advantage of it for higher ticket items anyway, for things such as printer cartridges. "Everybody's been consciencous and understanding and the whole bit."
The store found curbside pick-up service was popular. "They would just actually call from the parking lot. 'I'm so-and-so; I'm here to pick my stuff up.' And, you know Ad and I would take it out. We have a little wall out front, we would put it there and wave to them, and then they would come and pick it up. It actually worked out very well. Everybody was very appreciative," said Lynwood.
At the same time, a delivery service was still on offer.
According to Lynwood, the store has also altered its system of invoicing to accommodate the work place changes. Previously, a hard copy of the invoice went with the package being delivered. Now invoices and statements are being emailed out to those directly responsible for paying for the office supplies.
Nonetheless, the times remain a cause for concern. A large portion of the store's business comes from office furniture sales; Lynwood wondered if this will remain the case in the immediate future even when things start opening up.
While a company may have been considering buying a piece of equipment or furniture, "now with everything going on, you know, they may think, "'Well, we'll just wait a year.'"
Companies are all watching what they're spending," said Lynwood. "Because you don't know what's going to happen."
Then again, Hamster Eastern Office Supplies is in a good position to meet the equipment and furniture needs of a growing contingent of home offices.
Anyone wanting to nominate a business in the Shine On campaign can do so by connecting with the Shine On link at the top of this newspaper's website at: https://lighthousenow.ca, or by mailing a handwritten nomination with the business's name, as well as the nominator's name, email address, phone number and reason for the nomination.