BALA — When Linda and Jack Hutton opened Bala’s Museum nearly 30 years ago, they never dreamed the year a pandemic occurred would be good for business.
Bala’s Museum — with memories of Lucy Maud Montgomery is tucked away on Maple Avenue, but for a slew of new and returning customers this summer, its location is on Facebook.
Adapting to a digital-friendly operation during the COVID-19 lockdown has turned a stressful year into a record-breaking one thanks to worldwide sales from a converted home office.
The museum has always had a loyal following on social media, said Linda, who — stocked up on memorabilia for the museum’s gift shop — turned to the social platform to see if there might be interest in purchasing items there.
On the heels of the cancellation of the biennial Lucy Maud Montgomery conference held in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, messages from fans and collectors started pouring in.
“All of a sudden they have some extra money and they were really willing to support our museum because they realized what a tenuous situation we were in,” Linda said.
Because the museum is such an interactive experience — visitors can dress in costume, participate in re-enactments from Anne of Green Gables and children’s games — coronavirus was a real cause for concern. As well, the Huttons are seniors and more vulnerable to the virus.
With the help of their son, who taught them how to read Facebook’s analytics, Linda began posting items for sale. Buyers have appeared from as far away as Argentina, Australia, the Philippines and Poland.
“They all realized how vulnerable we are since we don’t get any government money and never have,” Linda explained. “Every single sale, whether it’s just five dollars and I have to mail it, it’s another five dollars in the pot.”
International connections are nothing new for the museum, it is outfitted with Japanese translation and the Huttons have welcomed more than 120,000 guests from 30 different countries over three decades.
Still, the transition to e-commerce has been a “huge learning curve” said Linda, as she manages international shipping and how to gauge the growth of the business through Facebook.
Jack admits he was skeptical at first, unsure at just how many bites they would get online. According to stats he compiled, the museum’s Facebook page saw a 459 per cent jump in likes during May. Before coronavirus the average post reached 400 people; it now reaches an average of 700 users.
“We had the best financial return we have ever had for the month of May thanks to Linda’s idea,” he said.
As for the museum, the Huttons anticipate opening by appointment only when COVID restrictions lift. There have been disappointments, including a group of women from Arkansas unable to cross the closed border.
“I’m very thankful,” Linda said. “I feel very blessed and very honoured that people who have known about our museum are looking in on us every day. It is a huge help.”
Kristyn Anthony reports for Muskokaregion.com through the Local Journalism Initiative, a program funded by the Canadian government.
Kristyn Anthony, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, muskokaregion.com