Entrepreneurs and COVID-19 - Interview with Monika Blichar of Monika's Art Boutique-Studio & Gallery (North Vancouver)

Please share a bit about yourself as an entrepreneur and what your business entails - brick and mortar store, online, product, etc.

My name is Monika Blichar. I am the owner of Monika's Art Boutique Studio & Gallery in North Vancouver, BC. We represent over 50 artists and designers at our boutique studio and also offer art programs, classes, camps and workshops for children and adults.

I am also the owner and coordinator of Art World Expo which annually features over 150 artists and is held every year in Vancouver, Edmonton and every few years in Victoria and Toronto. I dabble in a variety of things as an artist as well including painting, designing clothing such as leggings and kimonos, as well as jewellery and printmaking.

Before the COVID-19 crisis, how did you work with your regular clients and reach out to new ones. What type of marketing worked best for you?

I have always enjoyed learning how to grow a business and have had both a physical presence as well as an avid social media one as well. On top of having our physical studio and boutique where we offer shopping as well as arts programming, it was always on my daily agenda to upload new content to our websites, online store, social media and send out newsletters. 


I have been working hard on those things for the last 10 years in addition to to serving clients in person! I found that owning a small business, these things had to be done to reach the greatest number of views which could lead to potential customers, fans and supporters, so I feel fortunate right now as I am able to navigate social media and marketing with ease! What's working best for us right now specifically are our free daily art classes we are broadcasting on our Facebook page at 2:00 p.m. Pacific time daily.  

How has the social isolations required to combat the spread of COVID-19 affected your business? What about this has been hardest for you personally?

Our physical studio and boutique have been closed to the public since March 12 so all of our shoppers and students have not been able to come in as usual. That said, we have been very active about sharing essential products that our artisans and vendors make and arranging for curbside pick-up as well as shipping and delivery. The hardest part for me personally is not being able to see our students and regular customers as socializing with our community has always been the heart of why I have had studio for over 10 years. Having a space outside my home for art and arts education has always been my place of sanctuary and community, and seeing it empty every day has left a little piece of my heart feeling strained for sure.

Left - VendyArts Machine Monika has installed at one of the ferry terminals.
Right - just one of her fabulous window displays in her North Vancouver Art Gallery/St

Have you found new ways to interact with your customer? Have you developed any new products or services as a way to help your clients through this time, or to fill a new need you see? 

Yes we sure have! The irony is that we were already working on digital products before the COVID crisis; but, the pandemic sped up the process for adding to our online resources and services. We have launched free daily mini art classes on our social media for all of our followers as well as online weekly modules, video tutorials starting at $7, printables, colouring sheets, new DIY kits, new Ebooks, and Monika's Artists in Training Monthly Subscription Box! We have also launched virtual painting parties!

Pre-Covid19 studio painting party and some of the drawings
coming in recently from Monika’s online classes! 

It's been very refreshing to offer our services this way as we can serve our clients and also reach new students and customers from all over the world! As far merchandise sales, we are focusing on promoting essential products like soaps, toothbrushes, shampoo and conditioner bars, as well as packages that include items that help keep our customers safe and creative! Our next promotion is a Mother's Day "Quarantine Survival Kit for Moms" including locally made items like soap, colouring sheets, tea, tea infusers and online art classes!

What type of marketing seems to be working best for you in this time of social isolation?

Our marketing hasn't really changed. We have always used all the platforms we can including Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and have built a large email subscriber database for our newsletter since opening in 2010. We have continued to market on all of those platforms just like we were before! 

Leggings featuring Monika's artwork!
What we have been able to do is focus on adding content to new platforms and dedicating more time to reaching new people. We have had more time to explore making live videos, exploring Tiktok, adding new services to our Fiverr account, focusing on our Facebook Groups as well as advertising in other groups, listing products on Ebay, and other sites that we didn't have time to before. 

I also think that even though we are focusing on new areas to market our company, the best marketing that we have had has been as a result of servicing our long time vendors, suppliers, customers, followers, students, and friends. These vendors, clients and friends have offered us ways to cross promote, told their friends about us, shared our content and videos, and as a result have helped us stay afloat while we help them stay creative! 

Anything you'd like readers to know about you and your business? Any last words of encouragement you'd like to share with everyone? 

I believe that everything always happens for a reason and that our purpose in this life is to figure out what we are truly passionate about and to follow our dreams. This time for me personally has allowed me to step back from the daily hustle and look at what I am most truly passionate about, what I want to spend my precious time on earth doing more or less of, and also to reassess what I want to put back into my work and personal lives once this is over. I've been able to work around my home more, garden, cook and bake, read, and learn new things about how to run a virtual business which I want to expand on even when this is over. 

One of Monika's online drawing tutorials
for the rabbit and hat seen in image below!

I believe all small business owners should focus on these things right now while they have the time. What are the things that set our souls on fire? Why did we start our business? How do we want to spend our time going forward? I've tried new projects including sanding and painting a dresser to turn into a garden box. I've had more time to take care of myself and to focus more on my partner. I've focused on growing my personal relationships with family, friends and colleagues.

I believe this pandemic is offering us a glimpse into the deeper meaning of our lives individually and also as a collective. Going forward, I would encourage all entrepreneurs to look at their core values and their goals to ensure that they go back to what they love but don't sacrifice passion or wellness once we are allowed to operate fully.

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