A chair sits in the middle of Holiday Market, a specialty grocer near Detroit, and if customers are lucky, they’ll find Tom Violante Sr. sitting in it. The 91-year-old founder still comes to work most days — and he knows where everything is in its 60,000 square feet.
“He asks everyone if they found what they wanted,” said his son, Tom Violante Jr., who operates the store with his sister and brother-in-law. “If they haven’t, he’ll tell them which aisle it is in, how many steps it takes to get there, and where it’s located, knee, head or belly high.”
That’s the type of customer service the store, in Royal Oak, Mich., is known for. So, when Tom Violante Jr. began considering offering online grocery shopping, he wanted to provide that same level of care. He didn’t expect the service to be a huge revenue generator, but he saw the future coming, as online brands such as Chewy and Winc wooed his customers away. In 2019, he assembled a team to build an online platform that could handle the store’s 60,000 items.
Big e-commerce businesses also absorbed nearly 60 percent of all warehouse space available last year, according to real estate analysts at CoStar Group.
“The big just got bigger,” said Andrew Lipsman, principal analyst with eMarketer.
For small businesses, he said, the benefit was wildly uneven. There were winner sectors, such as grocery, health and fitness, and direct-to-consumer brands, but apparel boutiques and other specialty retailers — especially those without existing e-commerce platforms — struggled.
“The pandemic accelerated the growth of online commerce,” said Loren Padelford, vice president of Shopify, the e-commerce platform that predominantly serves independent retailers. “It woke a lot of people up to the idea that if you have to close your physical door, you need to have a digital door.”
been using Instagram, TikTok and Clubhouse to connect directly with shoppers. She has developed a following on those platforms, she said, because she doesn’t post just about the products. She posts about what matters to her: the struggles of building a business, her upbringing, even confusion about what she is “supposed to look like” as the owner of a beauty brand.
“This is so different from the last version of the brand,” Ms. Roy said. “It’s less transactional, more authentic to who I am. It has really contributed to our growth.”
In 2020, the company recorded $1 million in sales, Ms. Roy said. This year, she anticipates $6 million.