SALISBURY, N.C. – Tonyan Schoefield is a survivor accustomed to facing big challenges, but the arrival of COVID-19 just as she had her new business up and running left her frightened and unsure where to turn.
“COVID was something no one expected or imagined, and it forced us all to look at the world in a whole different way,” said Schoefield, who opened Tonyan Grace Boutique, which she describes as a “curvy girl one-stop shop,” in downtown Salisbury in 2019. “I was not sure how to proceed. My business was new, and I was already scrambling to keep my head above water.”
She credits the Small Business Center at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College with providing the guidance she needed to regroup and market the boutique with new ideas designed to weather the challenges of the pandemic.
The Small Business Center’s BRACE (Business Rebound as COVID-19 Evolves) program offered free assistance to qualifying business owners, including coaching, assessment, and recovery guidance. Thanks to a $12,500 grant from Wells Fargo, the Small Business Center was able to provide free remote counseling to owners struggling to stay afloat during the pandemic. Professional business coaches helped evaluate their needs and formulate new strategies, addressing such issues as staffing, inventory, technology, operations, and marketing.
“For businesses struggling to find their way through COVID-19, this one-on-one remote counseling helped them get back on their feet more quickly and gave them the ongoing support to stay there,” said Rowan-Cabarrus Vice President of Continuing Education Craig Lamb.
“I liked the fact that the Small Business Center went into ‘save small business’ mode early in the COVID crisis,” Schoefield said. “I felt like I wasn’t in it by myself. Someone else believed in what I was doing, whether they had a boutique or not, and that helped me believe I could get through it.”
With the help of her BRACE coach, Schoefield shifted gears while staying true to her brand. Instead of marketing to an audience of women who were buying items for special occasions, church and parties, she transitioned to what she calls “Zoom wear,” concentrating on helping them enhance their online appearance while working from home.
Schoefield revamped her website, expanded e-commerce options and began broadcasting Facebook Live sale sessions to engage customers in real time. She also began offering what she calls “virtual personal shopping,” where customers can contact her by cell phone or Zoom and she’ll help them shop. “I can look at them and they can let me know their measurements, and we can pick out items to match their body type,” she explained.
Schoefield continues to look to the future of the boutique, which bears her first and middle names and is the symbol of her survival in more ways than one. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011 and given less than a year to live, she told herself that, if she survived, she would launch her dream boutique.
“I opened Tonyan Grace because I had defied my diagnosis and it was time to realize the dream,” she said. “I love business. I love helping women succeed. I’m vibrant and I love life, and I am focusing on empowering curvy women and helping them build confidence.”
Tonyan Grace Boutique, located at 210 South Main Street in Salisbury, carries clothing, lingerie, accessories and more for sizes 12 to 28.
The BRACE program helped Schoefield adapt her business in ways she hadn’t considered and boost her revenue while foot traffic to the store was down. “Even though 2020 was a horrible year, my year did not end horribly,” she said. “And the plus is that these strategies will continue to work for me.”
“We are thankful to Wells Fargo for the funding to provide needed assistance to business owners in Rowan and Cabarrus counties who were struggling to overcome the challenges of the pandemic,” said Dr. Carol S. Spalding, president of Rowan-Cabarrus. “It is encouraging to know that these business owners are able to continue pursuing their dreams and contribute to our lively local economic landscape.”
For more information about the Small Business Center, please visit staging.rccc.edu/sbc.