How a travel clothing retailer is staying true to its brand values

April 21, 2021

COVID-19 caused sales to slow down for many retailers that relied on in-store purchases, especially retailers located in airports. Here’s how Sairey Gernes, owner of Urban Undercover, located within the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, made the move to e-commerce when travel came to a halt.

Retailers that rely on in-person shopping faced major hurdles in 2020 — especially businesses like Urban Undercover, a sustainable travel clothing store located in a terminal at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport. To remain open, founder and owner Sairey Gernes had to pivot to an already oversaturated e-commerce landscape. Sairey found success in her new business strategy by staying true to Urban Undercover’s identity.


When you found out travel would come to a halt during COVID-19, what was your first move?

“I’m forever an optimist, so I tried to remember that all of this was temporary. We adjusted our staff scheduling and hours at the airport to cut costs without making drastic changes. When the concourse closed, we were left with no option but to close our store. That was the moment I realized this was going to be a huge impact on us.”


How did you stay true to Urban Undercover when you switched focus to online sales?

“I saw a lot of people in our industry pivot their messaging to “work from home,” and I knew right away I didn’t want to do that. We built our whole brand and community on traveling, and I wanted to stay true to the brand. 90 percent of our sales came from in-store sales and events. Online is a tough and expensive game to play, and it’s saturated. We hadn’t put our eggs in that basket before. When we did make the switch to e-commerce, we focused our messaging on how Urban Undercover is about ‘everyday travel.’ We believe every day is an adventure, so we honed in on that messaging in our online store.”


Now that travel is slowly returning and customers are visiting stores in person again, what’s your plan to come back strong?

“We’re hoping to have the store open every day by summer. The Minnesota State Fair is a huge event for us, so we’re hoping that’s coming back as well. We’re starting to see an upswing in our store on days we’re open, and an increase in online sales — which is great, since that was our whole pivot point over the last year. Now, we’re hoping online performs just as well, if not better, than our in-store sales, since we put in all that work this year.”


What advice would you give a business owner entering a super-saturated online market?

“Keep it simple and filter out all the extra noise. Stay true to what you believe, your messaging, your branding, and what you and your company are all about.”


Continue reading more stories about how small business owners pivoted their business and navigated unprecedented times.

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