Looking at Life a New Way

“I’ve looked at life from both sides now . . .” - Joni Mitchell 


Yes, I own a shoe store but I am much more.  I often say I am "Bigger than a Business Card", because I defy defintion. Life is too short to be one thing, or to limit one's potential to learn something new. I am strategy and communications professional consultant, risk planner, publisher, professional writer / journalist and author to name a few things.  If you're interested you can check out my professional website. I manage 5 different Instagram accounts and facebook pages and three websites.  Communication is at the core of my expertise. My superpower is telling a story. 

I've been learning over the past 5 years since I walked into the shoe store known then as Zoe's Boutique - the grand dame of shoes in Regina.  The place where stories are lived and shared. Through all of its reinventions over the past 34 years, it has remained the same at the core - to be the kind of place where people come together and share important steps in their lives.  It's a great honour to be trusted.  

ZÖE is destined for another reinvention brought about by a lot of things - from a weakening economy, the collapse of retail as a front door when it was replaced by Amazon's warehouse shopping model, and now COVID19.  2019 was a very difficult year with revenues 45% below the previous year. This was the experience of retail across the board. 

As an independent, personal sacrifices were made to keep the business running and to keep our lives intact.  The business of retail has been on life support for a long time, and ZÖE was and is caught in the tidal wave of that change. 

Black Swan

So it was inevitiable that some day the retail model would break, and it did.  COVID19 was the black swan event - an event that came out of the blue without warning -  that literally stopped the world from living to fight the virus.  People went home and stayed there.  Most of the world is still there, at home.  

As the risk of COVID became real, we went to online shopping and shopping by appointment, and implemented stringent cleaning protocols.

However, our store with a door was officially closed by Government order on March 20 without consultation. I found out about it in the media.  The door was closed offically until May 19.

We adapted as did many businesses in an attempt to keep the business moving forward with online shopping, which thankfully we've had in place since 2017.  We moved to contactless pickup and of course delivery. And shopping by appointment, which to be honest, was always something I wanted to implement. 

Our social media story focused on getting reaquainted with our community who were at home by then, and watching, listening, and dancing along with us.  Dancing on FLUEVOG Friday had become a tradition during 2018 - 2019.  So every Friday during shut down, I would get dressed, go to my store at 8 AM and dance. My hope was to make people smile a little bit.

The other day a guest said to me - "this is your fun job". That made me happy because I want ZÖE to feel like euphoria for my guests. 

This is my business and yes there is a fun element to retail. Who doesn't love dressing in beautiful things and meeting amazing people, and enjoying the stories that they tell me. The people I meet are my favourite part of this business, and making them happy.

I do love my business and yes, it satisfies my need to be creative, and independent and to make a dent in the world in the way that I can through supporting and representing independent design.  That's my true passion.  Fashion that is created intentionally, and with rareity.  Fashion that is created by people who make a living from it. Fashion that creates economic benefit for the maker. Fashion that inspires. 

But it is my business; it is not my job.  My business works for me.  And so with events that are literally reshaping the world as we speak, we have two choices in life - do nothing and hope for the best, which is a recipe for closure - or adapt to the new world and look for ways to be relevant and successful.

Truthfully, if I were looking at the business case for independent retail from a mathematical perspective, it would be more prudent to do nothing and let the tide take it where it will . . .

But when I walked into the door of Zoe's Boutique on February 1, 2016, I knew that retail was changing, and that a new vision of retail was needed. That's why Zoe's Boutique become ZÖE, a lifestyle brand that could envelop many lives. That's why the shopping format was heightened to create a distinct experience from the first step inside our door. That's why we changed the brands that we carry to include International brands and Canadian favourites, like Fluevog.  That's why we built and launched our online store in July 2017.  

Outside our door, the economy in our province shifted downward as a resource based economy.  Western Canada has been hit hard by the policies enacted at the Federal level. Retail is the window of the world, and from my perspective, I could see that these forces - the shift to online shopping, Amazon, the economy, and the disconnection of people from community - it would be inevitable that the only thing that could change the course of the trajectory was a world event that would literally take people off their feet for a time. 

The world event happened. COVID 19 has taken the way we knew life out from under our feet. We are all finding a new way. 

The RESET Plan

We have to find our feet again in a world that is largely spinning beyond our control. RESET stands for review, examine, strategy, execute, transform. 

We put in place a 90 day RESET analysis plan. The first step is to review and understand the new ground under our feet, understanding the current state and how it is affecting the future direction of the external environment. 

I created a risk assessment and according to our risk analysis of the environment, the situation is this:

  • Our high service, personal shopping experience business model pre-covid is now dictated by government health restrictions that require us to know who walks through our door;
  • The Government health restrictions impose changes on the way our customers can shop.
  • People's lives have changed financially, socially and professionally as they work from home and are attempting to find the new normal in their personal lives.It is likely that people will not be back to a "normal" way of life until 2021.

There are more unknowns than there are knowns.  

We don't know how people will react to the new way. We don't know how the risk impacts are affecting our suppliers and others in the business chain.  We don't know how long it will take for the economy to recover. 

We are now 14 days away from the end of the plan. During this period we launched an unprecedented 50% off on specific brands that we needed to liquidate in order to move forward.  The opportunity to purchase these items at 50% ends on June 20 at 5:00 PM, after which time they will revert back to full price. 

The Next Step: Designing a Reinvention Strategy 

Designing a new business model for retail in a retail industry that has lost its footing is difficult. The question is why would I, a small business owner in Regina, be able to solve this question - a question that the universe is grappling with. 

The answer is - I don't know.  But neither does anyone. I do know that going forward, we will be forever changed but the core of who we are will stay the same.

ZÖE will be an online store and a by-appointment brick and mortar with very likely different products that are not easily available or attainable online as we have been.

I do know that ZÖE will continue to be the place where people come together to share the stories of our lives lived in shoes. 

Thanks for reading and for being part of our lives.


Lynn Armstrong

Reinventor, ZÖE Shoes + Objects