This time last year, Winnipeg-based entrepreneur Obby Khan started GoodLocal.ca, an online portal that allows shoppers to browse a variety of products and services from local businesses, bundle them together however they want, and have them delivered to their door.
The initiative has been such a success that he's taking the concept into the bricks-and-mortar world of retail this season, opening a physical store in Winnipeg's Exchange District.
"The timing is perfect, just with the Christmas holiday season around the corner," he said.
Khan's sales pitch and motivation at launch was simple: People want to support local businesses whenever they can, so let's make it as easy as possible to do so, at a time when they need it the most.
The nearly $1 million in sales that Khan's passion project has done since launch was a welcome lifeline to local businesses that needed it. But along the way, Khan says the initiative has uncovered an unexpected secret weapon that local firms had all along — perhaps without knowing it: They buy local, too.
Supply chain issues caused by COVID-19 have walloped the markets for everything from toilet paper to semiconductors and lumber. But Khan says most of the local businesses he works with have managed to stickhandle their way through, because they tend to use locally sourced supplies themselves.
"The beauty thing about supporting local is that the supply chain isn't a massive factor for us. A lot of these vendors are getting their products locally. They're handcrafting them. They're buying in small quantities," he said. "Everyone's talking about supply chain and problems and bringing in products overseas.… We don't need all of those products."
Online selling marketplace Etsy, which works predominantly with small businesses to help them sell their products beyond their local markets, has detected the same trend, especially in the lead-up to Black Friday.
"Our sellers are also well positioned during this busy time, when many big box retailers are facing supply chain disruptions, as many of them don't rely on major manufacturing," said Dayna Isom Johnson, Etsy's trend expert.
Because of that, there are still some holiday-season deals to be found, said Johnson, reporting she's seen discounts of up to 60 per cent from some Etsy vendors.
That's not to suggest it's business as usual, however. The site has made its seasonal sales event three days longer this year, she said, "to meet the seasonal buyer demand and encourage shoppers to start their holiday shopping early."
Although it considers itself a proud local Canadian business, Montreal-based lingerie chain La Vie en Rose says it has not been immune to the supply-chain crunch that its much larger rivals have felt acutely.
Early on in the pandemic, demand for swimwear plummeted and never really recovered, said Mirna Saffouri, the chain's vice-president of marketing. But that was offset by an uptick in sales of loungewear, and now the retailer is seeing a surge in bras and lingerie again.
While it's great to see demand booming, that presents its own set of problems.