Author: Monica Leonard, Founder of Molly’s Suds and The Refillery sponsored this year’s Entrepreneurial AcademyÂ® (EA). The EA program, hosted by The Greenhouse since 1995, has helped entrepreneurs in and around St. Petersburg start and run successful businesses.
Nobody could have seen this coming and yet here we are, a united people, experiencing for the very first time in our lifetime a complete shutdown of life as we know it. March 16th, I sent home half of my employees to work from home indefinitely while 5 of our essential warehouse staff were instructed to keep showing up to work as usual. My first priority was to keep the shipping team healthy by the only means I had control over, less exposure to other humans.
My background in nursing gave me a heightened sense of impending doom… err… change of normal life comingâ€¦ in February. Watching the epidemic unfold, I pushed my husband to cancel a long-awaited family vacation scheduled for April knowing we would most likely be on lockdown for travel. I sat our warehouse team down in an informal meeting to let them know I was already beginning to secure our supply chain by talking with our manufacturer about lead times, increasing our purchase orders, and implementing extra cleaning regimens for added protection to them and any potential on-site customers. I knew their candor was voiced in their facial expressions; they felt like my undiagnosed OCD was next level crazy. I wished it was an overreaction.
Fast forward to March 13th. We recommended a front door sign, specifying absolutely no in-person appointments, and all small package deliveries were to be left on the doorstep. We asked our non-shipping employees to take any files, equipment, and products they would need to do their job from home, just in case. On Saturday the 14th, I was certain the best decision for Mollyâ€™s Suds was to keep those employees home while maintaining normal operations for the warehouse team. We had never allowed anyone to work from home. Weâ€™re a small team and our business model was all on site operations, but I love a good challenge so it was on.
Immediately on Monday morning, the 16th, we had a round table of how we could all maintain communication without a thousand emails filling up our inboxes. Basecamp was our answer. It had to be mandatory that 100% of the team learn and implement the system within 5 days. Two of my techiest team members got us up and running: they scheduled one-on-one meetings with everyone and by Friday we were up and running. This has been a huge stress reliever for me, and provides total transparency as to what everyone is working on, with due dates. I also have access to their daily goals and tasks. For them, it is an organizational tool that gives them the empowerment to structure their time as needed. For people who are used to being in the confined structure of an onsite office to now being a homeschooling, co-parenting, housekeeper, teacher, and cook, the reality is the normal business hours may not apply!
Customer is “King” for every business. We had to find a way to keep our core values alive and our customer from feeling any more stress in their lives when ordering our products, or calling for help with an order. I needed to order a cell phone for my customer service employee to allow her to freely call and respond to our customers without giving out her personal cell phone number. I advise business owners to find easy ways to combat issues to ensure your customer still feels like it is business as usual.
We ship our natural and safer-for-you laundry and household products all over the US and Canada. Our business experienced the surge that also ran toilet paper out of stock in a week. Supply chain is our current daily struggle. We are actively working on what we can control, which is about 20% of the problem. The other 80% of our time is being spent making sure that when business goes back to usual, since weâ€™re all doing business in an unusual way, weâ€™ll be ready with more organization, technology, efficiencies, profit models, and structure to hit the ground running. NOW is the time to get around to all of the projects, ideas, and implementations of new processes and procedures. This ensures not just business is back to usual, but itâ€™s a profitable and efficient business. This is an exciting time for all businesses.
While Mollyâ€™s Suds, an essential business and grocery supplier, is doing well from a sales standpoint, my second company, Refillery Saint Pete, is in retail and currently struggling. Stay at Home means just that and we are working on reduced hours, furloughed employees, and a fraction of our current income. It is a struggle. So, we have had to innovate new ways to sell (curbside, reduced customers in the store, take home DIY Kits) and we have been using this time to re-analyze our current product assortment to review profitability. Our goal is to implement new pricing, order only the items that have an acceptable sell through rate, and have a training manual fully ready to launch by April 30th. We also made a commitment to take this time to ensure our presentation is in tiptop shape. Weâ€™ve refreshed out landscape, touched up the paint, cleaned our shelving and stocked all items. To be recession proof, we know weâ€™ll need online order capabilities and mobile distribution.
For Mollyâ€™s Suds, weâ€™ve tasked each â€œdepartmentâ€ which is now only one person each, to develop a training manual for future hires. Theyâ€™re also been tasked to get all of their filing up to date, spreadsheets caught up and an SOP completed for each of their processes. This time must be viewed as a privilege, not as a curse, and we must take full advantage as employers! It will, in turn, allow for less stressed employees once business resumes and a more organized and profitable operation. This can be considered a gift, yaâ€™ll.
This crisis has taught me even more about what Iâ€™m made of and Iâ€™ve experienced new emotions in the face of adversity. If we allow it, as business owners, this helps make us a better version of ourselves and delivers a stronger version of our current businesses. Pull together some of your small business friends (on Zoom) and brainstorm ways to innovate. We will move forward with sustainable businesses in the face of crisis. Stronger. Better. Letâ€™s go!
Monica Leonard is the sponsor for the Spring 2020 Entrepreneurial Academy, a ten-week course by the St. Petersburg Greenhouse that teaches existing and future entrepreneurs the essentials of owning a business.