When you’ve been in business for a significant length of time, you’ve seen the impact of natural and manmade events.
The Switzer family has been running businesses in Simcoe County for over a century; and since 1993, Scott Switzer, Karen Switzer and Heather Mallard Houle have owned and operated the Severn TimberMart, Home and Cottage Interiors, and Brechin TimberMart.
They’ve seen fires, floods, windstorms, ice storms and economic recessions over the years, and most recently they have found ways to continue operations during the pandemic.
From modifying the store to serving customers safely to dealing with supply chain issues, Heather says it’s been interesting, challenging – and sometimes fun – as they have worked to take care of their customers’ needs.
Demand for certain items has been unpredictable. “In 2020, it was chicken wire for chicken coops, garden ties, soils and garden seeds,” she recalls. “Just as the grocery stores ran out of flour – as everyone was staying home making bread – so were they getting chickens for eggs and their own vegetables to reap.”
Supply chains have also been disrupted, and not always by the pandemic: a deep freeze in Texas last winter shut down resin production plans, affecting paint and caulking manufacturers. Heather says this event is still causing shortages.
Meanwhile, the gypsy moth infestation has created a shortage of duct tape. “It has us wondering what can happen next,” says Heather.
Pivot and shift
“Operating business through a pandemic has brought to light a number of things,” Heather says. “The ability to serve a customer face to face with our personal service is much preferable to over the phone or online – however it is the wave of the future and we learned somewhat how to deal with the changes and develop ideas as to how the new way will work.”
They saw many customers who still appreciated the way the teams at their stores could quickly handle requests in house. Others – perhaps used to dealing with big box stores – were critical of the lack of online presence.
Yet, Heather, her family and her team are remaining positive and looking forward to the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel.
“We have many customers who like personal service and shopping in store, but the time is coming where we’ll have to adapt to meet the needs of our future clientele,” she says.
“As we look toward recovery, we look forward to personal service and a readily stocked inventory of all materials. We appreciate more than anything the support that the community has given to local businesses.”
TEXT CHRIS OCCHIUZZI | PHOTOS ANDREW FEARMAN