In the middle of an interview, Shira Nafshi, owner of The Trainer’s Loft in Tilton, excuses herself to greet a customer.
“I’m going to give you some hand sanitizer before you get too far,” she says.
Running interference to make sure that customers coming into the equine tack shop are properly sanitized and masked is just one way that Nafshi’s workday has changed since the pandemic took hold. The Trainer’s Loft, which also sells animal feed, was deemed an essential business and able to stay open throughout the stay-at-home order, so Nafshi began requiring staff and customers to wear masks early on.
For some customers, that was an inconvenience. In the spring, when the shop was only doing curbside pickup at the loading dock, Nafshi spent about 20 minutes on the phone with a potential customer, discussing the type of chicken feed the woman needed and running through various options. At the end of the call, the woman asked if The Trainer’s Loft required masks. Nafshi explained that she did, but the woman wouldn’t actually be coming into the store, since this was a curbside pickup order.
“I won’t shop at a store that requires masks,” the caller said, before hanging up, Nafshi recalled.
Despite the occasional negative reaction from customers, Nafshi was determined to keep masks in place — and worn correctly — throughout the store.
“If we’re going to stay open as a store we need customers to comply with mask wearing,” she said.
Since the state-wide mask mandate went into effect in November, Nafshi has found that customers are more likely to comply.
“I’m really really grateful that Gov Sununu issued the mandate for the masks, making it easier for store owners to say to customers, ‘this isn’t just our policy, it’s a state policy,’” she said. “That is one reason I haven’t had as much pushback.”
After reopening to in-person shopping when the stay-at-home order was lifted in June, The Trainer’s Loft saw a steady stream of customers.
“This summer was phenomenal,” Nafshi said. “So many people were happy to be out there with their horses again. We had a ton of traffic through there.”
The Trainer’s Loft sells some new items, but is mostly a consignment shop. Nafshi believes that the financial impact of the pandemic left more people looking for a bargain, and perhaps introduced new people to second-hand shopping.
“People were looking for cheaper items,” she said. “Those people who can’t spend $200 on new boots will come here and get them for $50 or $75.”
The winter season is typically slower for The Trainer’s Loft, and that’s been the case this year as well. What hasn’t abated is the number of people looking to consign their items.
“More and more people are cleaning out. Everybody’s been nesting,” Nafshi said. The number of consignments has been so huge that Nafshi has put a hold on new consignments until the new year. But she expects even then she’ll have plenty of product.
During the pandemic, The Trainer’s Loft strengthened its online presence, and directed customers online to place curbside pickup orders. However, the digital business hasn’t taken off for the store like it has for some other Granite State businesses. Most people prefer to come into the store, Nafshi said.
“We love our customers and love to be able to talk to them about their horses, to build up those connections and relationships,” she said. “That gets lost when you’re doing it over the internet. The staff cares; a website doesn’t.”
This story is part of the 50 Businesses; 50 Solutions series shared by partners in the Granite State News Collaborative. It has now grown beyond 50, as NH businesses continue step up to face the challenges posed by the pandemic and the Collaborative continues to highlight how business leaders across the state, from mom-and-pop shops, to large corporations have adapted in the hope others may be able to replicate these ideas and innovations. Tell us your story here. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.