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What you need to know about COVID-19: October 1, 2020
CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. — P.E.I.'s Greg Butler isn't the type of person who normally second-guesses his business decisions.
But even the prospect of opening the new year-round Charlottetown Discounters store this week during COVID-19 pandemic had him wondering at times if it was the right call.
"It's kind of a crazy time," said Butler, who now owns five year-round Discounters stores in the Maritimes and usually opens seven seasonal Christmas Discounters stores each year.
"I don't second-guess myself too much. There's many, many positives. I think we're in the right type of business – what people are going to need if money does get tighter. We're in a fantastic location. We've got a nice, big space (and) a proven model that works," he said.
The new 19,000 square-foot store in the former Leon's furniture building at 134 St. Peters Rd. opened Wednesday morning. Butler is employing 15 people to work in the store, and the shelves are stocked with inventory on both floors.
There have been a few challenges to getting the store up and running due to COVID-19.
Butler bought the building in November and began extensive renovations in February. The plan was to open the store in May, but the impact of COVID-19 in March slowed down the renovations and the availability of contractors. It also affected Butler's ability to acquire inventory.
Butler buys products from China, the U.S. and Canada, but with COVID-19, many warehouses and suppliers were closed down or operating at a reduced staff. The time it took to have an order shipped increased from a couple of days to a couple of weeks, he said.
Butler's ability to travel and meet with suppliers in person was also impacted.
"Basically, all the normal things you would do, whether it was ordering or getting it shipped by truck or the warehouse packing it or the factory making it, everything was taking longer," he said.
Butler grew up in Miminegash, P.E.I. After several years of working and partnering in the discount retail industry, he decided to go out on his own in 2006 and open two temporary "pop up" Christmas Discounters stores in Charlottetown and Montague. Today, the business has permanent, year-round stores in Charlottetown, Summerside, Stratford, Montague and Moncton, N.B. As well, seasonal Christmas Discounters stores pop up in New Brunswick (Fredericton and Saint John), Nova Scotia (Dartmouth/Cole Harbour Road, Bridgewater, Truro and Amherst) and on P.E.I. in the Charlottetown Mall.
The plan was to have both the year-round Charlottetown store and the seasonal Christmas store in the Charlottetown Mall open this year. But with COVID-19 and the possibility of having businesses shut down again as they did in March, he isn't sure if he is going to reopen the seasonal stores on and off the Island that are usually located in enclosed malls (without a separate outside entrance).
"It's really made the decision tough and, to be truthful, I'm really on the fence. I'm at a point here in the next couple weeks where I'm going to have to make a decision," he said.
Butler notes that keys to the success of the business have been getting the right products for customers but also having the right staff in place who treat the business as their own and know their customers. Some of Butler's employees have been with him since the beginning.
"They go the extra mile to help the customers and, therefore, the customers become loyal to the store," he said.
The focus of the new Charlottetown store is home decor and bed and bath items, but the location's size and available space have allowed Butler to expand product offerings in many categories and adjust in the future to meet customer's needs. Some of the items found in the store include coffee makers, bedding, gift and seasonal cards, crafts, puzzles, small furniture, seasonal garden items, masks and sanitizers, toys, and grocery items, including large cans of Tim Horton's coffee.
"The concentration is always to bring value to the customer. We're not focused on being at a specific price point," said Butler. "Yeah, excited to get it open."