In late 2019 I had spent more than two decades moving up and down the east coast working in the retail sector for some of the biggest clothing brands in the world. I loved doing visual merchandising for companies like Banana Republic, J. Crew, and Starboard Cruise Services owned by Louis Vuitton. While these brands provided me unparalleled experience and cultivated my skills, I realized they were all missing a critical aspect of my heart — that South Carolina pride. Then, with the holidays around the corner, my thoughts started to turn to my great home state and a plan sparked.
Shortly after returning home, my love for South Carolina inspired me to start my dream small business: a shop that sells merchandise celebrating our great state. We sell all things “SC Proud” from coffee mugs and hoodies to golf shirts and face masks.
With merchandise in hand, I had planned to join the circuit of local festivals and community events, ingratiate myself with local people and was scheduled to launch The Mercantile South Carolina on March 18.
As quickly as my plan came together, the world changed — as it did for so many small businesses. This once-in-a-century pandemic shuttered the state three days before our launch. Realizing that many of the events were going to be canceled, I knew I needed a way to sell my products and stay connected with clients, so I turned to social media.
While these sales vehicles were part of the initial launch plan, they were now my lifeline. Thanks to the free tools and services provided by Facebook and Instagram, I launched my business entirely online. The quick response from the community with immediate interest pleasantly surprised me and encouraged me to keep going.
As we celebrate the holiday season, I find myself reflecting on my experience and focusing on the good. A year ago, I could never have imagined starting and running a business during a global pandemic. Some would say I should have waited until it was over, but I know it forced me to adapt, get creative, and be flexible.
To all business owners, I want to offer a few tips from my experience that I hope you can employ as you navigate these unprecedented times.
First, support other small, local businesses. No one has to do this alone. In addition to selling my merchandise, I also have an Artist Corner feature, where I use The Mercantile’s pages to highlight some local artisans and their works. These are true local artists who appreciate the boost my joint promotions give them. I actually hired one of these artists to design unique stationery so I could write a handwritten note to include in every package. My hope is that it brightens their day and connects us while apart. Adding other local businesses to your supply chain supports your neighbors and local entrepreneurs.
Second, use the resources at your fingertips. While I wasn’t able to take my show on the road, I was able to launch with the use of the many digital tools social media offers like Facebook Stories and Instagram Shops. I didn’t have a marketing background, but I invested time in learning to use these resources and understand how to make the business successful even in a pandemic. Remarkably, I was able to do this in a matter of days.
Finally, believe in yourself. Times are tough, but so are we. The dream of owning my own small businesses didn’t start as planned, but I am proof that you can accomplish what you set your mind to -- even during the most challenging times. Running a business takes passion, hard work, determination, and persistence — pandemic or not — so believe in yourself, believe in your capabilities, and you will endure.
This holiday season, as you reflect on your blessings and your resolutions for the new year, think hard about what you truly want to do. If it is time for a new adventure in small business, don’t forget the incredible resources you have to help you get started.
Harness the power of those resources and success can be yours for the taking!
Ron Hunter was born and raised in Hemingway, SC. He now resides in Georgetown, SC. He is the owner of The Mercantile South Carolina.