“I don’t intend for the Marin store to be open tomorrow or maybe even the whole week. Likely the same for Post Street,” I wrote to my team in Slack on March 15, 2020. How quaint! How naïve! By the time of my next entry, June 18, said Post Street location of my San Francisco store Hero Shop showed zero signs of reopening ever, most members of that Slack channel soon would be laid off permanently, the world was wearing face masks 24/7, and it had been three months since I bothered to put in my contact lenses or color my hair. Which is to say I looked how I felt: rung out.
When San Francisco’s first shelter in place was announced last spring, a three-week mandated closure was incomprehensible. Yet here we are, a year later, that three weeks having extended into three months and our business almost entirely changed.
Pre-pandemic, Hero Shop was brick-and-mortar-focused, centered around the in-store experience at our two locations in San Francisco and Marin, about 20 minutes north of the city. We loved playing great music, styling clients in exciting new clothes, and throwing parties every chance we got. Now, down to just one store, we rely almost entirely on text, Instagram DMs, and email to communicate with clients (thankfully we took that time in person to build strong relationships) and the in-store experience is inverted to in-home. Each evening, like Santa Claus, I deliver online orders and approval boxes to doorsteps all across San Francisco and Marin (the driving extending my workday by about two hours).
But it’s working. 2020 was Hero Shop’s highest-selling year yet. Our clients scaled back their big-box store purchases in favor of shopping with us, and fervently encouraged their friends to take advantage of our home delivery service. We, at first frantically and now more methodically, threw everything online and increased our newsletter cadence. Our e-commerce sales grew 997%. (In-store was down only 40%.) We made the WFH wardrobe our priority: cozy sweaters, stretchy jeans, and good jewelry to jazz up the Zoom look—all critical inventory that, thanks to loans and grants, we were able to pay for. We also got to bring in exciting, covetable collections that previously were off limits to us, because their other points of distribution had gone under.
That’s where the survivor’s guilt kicks in. I hated closing our store in the Tenderloin, a neighborhood with vibrant history, but the health and safety conditions grew untenable. (Retailers in nearby Hayes Valley, a trendy area where Warby Parker and Away have stores, recently have been held up at gunpoint.) And the reality is that suburbs are thriving. Marin County, an affluent community 20 minutes across the Golden Gate Bridge where our second, and now our only, store is located, is undeniably the spot for a specialty luxury shop. Especially now that our city clients are moving there or passing through more often as they retreat to their second homes in Stinson Beach or Napa.
These days we’re seeing more clients in store and some are even shopping for glamorous summer vacations. What we have to sell them for these trips varies, since the clothes arriving now were bought via Zoom, and if you think online shopping for yourself is tricky, try doing it for a store.
In many ways, we’re entering the next 12 months better off than we did the last. Everyone is saying that sales this spring and summer will be gangbusters because of pent-up energy and dollars. But I don’t intend to take my foot off the gas. If the pandemic has taught me anything, it’s to not take anything for granted. If you told me that next year I’ll be selling Cossack hats on TikTok, I’d be like yeah, anything’s possible.