Small Business Lockdown Diary Part Two
The last time I wrote, seven weeks ago, our business, Chia Sisters, was riding a rollercoaster. Sales had dropped to 20% as we entered Lockdown. We were struggling to keep staff employed and were rapidly pivoting to an online platform that enabled home delivery across the country. Coming out of Lockdown, the rollercoaster is far from over and is taking unexpected turns.
This is our week-by-week story since the day we entered Level 3.
Week one: The day after Level 4 Lockdown my sister, Chloe, and I assess Chia Sisters’ options. We call cafe customers so that we can understand their positions. The response is mixed. Many are optimistic and relieved to be back at work. They talk of their loyal customers that flood in to support them. Some are struggling with the logistics of takeaway deliveries or creating a website. Others are looking to sell or have closed their doors for good.
Reasonably, none are ready to purchase juices and smoothies. They have leftovers from before Lockdown, and cold drinks do not fit the takeaway model, especially when cash is tight. It is a strange time for us. We have never had to push sales, but now when we need them it feels entirely inappropriate. We know that the focus must be on building these relationships and supporting each other. We have to find cashflow another way.
Week two: Where can we cut costs? Chia Sisters sales remain at less than 50%. We think about who we are. Chia Sisters is Zero Carbon, and Living Wage certified. Our juicery runs on solar-power. Some are questioning whether sustainability is relevant in the current conditions. Is this an area that we can cut back on? We do not think so, more than ever we need to stay true to our values.
We think about our staff, this has not been easy for them. Work fluctuates wildly. We have massive days implementing new procedures followed by empty days without sales. Our team is our most valuable asset. Some want to spend more time with their families, others have side-hustles. All have enjoyed the flexibility of hours during Lockdown. To retain this flexibility we hire another part-timer. We must be the only suffering business to hire during Level 3. Are we thinking straight?
Week three: We hold an innovation hui over breakfast and brainstorm the positives of Lockdown. We consider what we do have: staff needing secure work, New Zealanders looking to support local, cafes requiring income, nutritious and local ingredients, the ability to deliver to New Zealanders’ homes. Our Mum’s home-made muesli has come out of the oven. It tastes better because it is fresh. Many Kiwis have enjoyed the freshness of home-cooked bread, muesli and baking while in Lockdown. Could we recreate this experience for our customers?
Week Four: Here we go. We launch Chia Sisters Mum’s Muesli on our website. A local cafe, with extra capacity will batch-make it weekly. We home-deliver from the oven to New Zealand doorsteps so Kiwis can enjoy this muesli fresh like they did in Lockdown. We do not know if this will work. There is no money for market research but now is the time to innovate and adapt. Will New Zealanders embrace a fresh, home-delivered service?
Future: The concept of failure has changed for us. We accept it as a possibility for the future. This makes us fearlessly innovative. We are acting on ideas that in other times would be shut down as too hard or too risky. If others feel this way it will be exciting to see the ideas born in the coming months. Now is the time to support creative thought, New Zealand owned and made, make the penny go round, and look after our neighbours. The pandemic is a pivot point. We do not need to go back to normal, we can create something better.