Christina Kotiadis and her mother Antonella started Lemon & Lavender.
Even before 2020 hit, the odds were always stacked against Christina Kotiadis.
The 24-year-old has suffered from severe epilepsy since she was a teenager. In university, it escalated to a point where she was having as many as three seizures a day. She found she had no choice but to quit school altogether.
“It was horrible,” she said. “I couldn’t take the TTC alone and couldn’t drive. I couldn’t stay on residence because my roommate was terrified. There were a lot of missed classes. I dropped out and couldn’t get a job because no one wanted to take a risk having an employee go through a major medical episode. I remember thinking the last thing I wanted to do was having to rely on social assistance. I wanted more for myself and my life than that. Everything was taken away from me but I knew I had the potential.”
Her mom Antonella, who battles fibromyalgia, was also going through a difficult time. She too was finding it difficult to work with her chronic pain.
The mother and daughter, who are as close as can be, decided it was time to take their future into their own hands and open up their own business – together.
“We took a leap of faith and just did it. We have each other. We could step in if one or the other was sick, we wouldn’t run each other to the ground. We made it work day-by-day,” she said. “We are the best of friends and so it just seemed natural that we would do this together, for each other.”
Together they created Lemon & Lavender, a gift shop that carries unique products from a variety of designers as well as a large selection of toys and decor. They were making a good go at it with a brick-and-mortar store on a busy main street in west-end Toronto and while they considered going online, it was part of their five-year plan.
But that long-term goal went out the window when a global pandemic was declared in March, 2020.
Lemon & Lavender is located in west-end Toronto.
Forced to close down their shop, Christina knew being online was their only chance.
She worked day and night to get a website up and running and spent hours uploading inventory to the site. Realizing that shipping times were also severely impacted by the pandemic, Christina sought to ensure they could deliver their goods personally to their customers within 24 hours. At the time, even the heavyweight online marketplaces couldn’t ensure delivery in that time frame.
“It’s not easy for people to shop local online, especially when bigger companies can ship out faster,” she said. “Customer service was always a huge priority for us, and we didn’t want that to change.”
Armed with an e-commerce site and a plan, she turned to social media.
“I blasted a link to our website and highlighted the fact that we would deliver in as many Facebook groups that I could find. We gained a massive clientele just from doing that. Going online proved to be the best thing I could have done. I’m never going back.”
Christina wasn’t the only entrepreneur who discovered the benefits of e-commerce. A recent survey by PayPal Canada found 67 per cent of small businesses currently accept payments online and half (47%) of them only started doing so this year. Of all small businesses selling online, 34 per cent turned to digital payments only after Covid-19 was declared a global pandemic in March.
PayPal offered their customers a safer way to transact online.
Of course, there were a lot of learnings for Christina and Antonella along the way.
They soon expanded the way people could pay online and implemented PayPal after a customer requested it. Within no time, the online shop saw so much traffic, they needed to upgrade to a more sophisticated website.
When Easter, Mother’s Day and Christmas came along, the women offered pre-packaged gift baskets online and that proved to be a massive success as well.
“They did 10 times better online than they ever did in our stores. They are so convenient for customers who don’t have time to browse all our products. That was another huge learning for us,” Christina said.
Ironically, Christina and her mother were never big online shoppers before the pandemic and therefore never understood the huge opportunity they were missing out on. But she uses that to her advantage, as she has been able to sympathize with a lot of her older customers who also were not too comfortable shopping online.
“I encourage them to use PayPal and explained how they provide a safe transaction and offered them perks like Free Return Shipping On Us[i] and Purchase Protection,” she said. “That definitely helped give them the confidence to make the leap.”
While their goal this year is to find a delivery service who can guarantee one-day delivery and expand their delivery zone, her family, including her father and brother, continues to deliver the packages personally.
“Hundreds of people would send us messages thanking us. It was a huge help for them,” she said.
Personally, the women have persevered through their health battles despite a couple of setbacks. Though Lemon & Lavender has been busier than ever, the mother and daughter continued to look out for each other and give each other the proper rest they needed to remain healthy. In the past six months, Christina has only suffered one seizure and over the holiday, they took a much needed one-week break.
It's been a long year as lockdowns and shopping restrictions have continued in Canada well into spring. Without the ability to sell online, 58 per cent of small business owners said they don’t think their business could survive the impact of Covid-19, according[ST(1] to the PayPal Canada survey. The vast majority of small business owners (72%) said they believe e-commerce is now necessary in order to have a successful business.
Christina and Antonella know this all too well. Today, they are ready with new products, puzzles, DIY kits, and other items that they know their customers will want to help fill up their days at home.
“We’re ready this time," Christina said.
For more information on how other business owners have found success during the pandemic and how PayPal has helped them grow their business, visit our Newsroom's Business of Change feature. Also, for tips and expert advice, including how to get started with PayPal Checkout, Invoicing, Seller Protection and more, check out our Small Business Resource Guide.
[i] Up to $30, three times a year
[ST(1]Support for these claims?
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