The coronavirus pandemic - this is the hot topic of the year to date, along with all its repercussions: mass lay-offs, state lockdowns, arguably the biggest economic slump in modern times, and more. Amidst all the news about this crisis, business owners and entrepreneurs are left with the burning question: what’s the next step for us?
Once solutions have been set in place and the crisis has passed, life will go on and we’ll settle back into a facsimile of a normal lifestyle. Before we reach that point, we have to prepare and strategize on what we need to do in the present, to prepare for that (hopefully) near future. Lydia Fayal, Head of Marketing and Growth at Workstream, led a recent webinar with a panel of respected entrepreneurs, to get their two cents on what will happen next and how to make sure you’re ready. Here’s a transcript with all the relevant points you need to know.
Lydia: Thank you so much for joining our webinar today. The topic of this is just bringing business owners together in order to discuss what they are doing right now as they are thinking about reopening after coronavirus and in some cases during coronavirus. And also, the people who have kept locations open in terms of shifting their business practices, going through their processes, applying for small business loans.
I want to kick this off by having the 6 panelists introduce themselves, who they are, what their business does, and where they are located because the US is a very big country, and everyone is dealing with very unique problems.
Amanda: Hi everyone, I’m Amanda, I’m a financial controller in Tin Pot Creamery. We’re based in the San Francisco Bay Area, California. We have 5 retail locations as well as a production kitchen, and we hand craft ice cream, baked goods, and the mix that goes into our ice creams.
Bill: Hi, I’m Bill Lindquist, a franchise owner of one location, in Elements Massage, a therapeutic massage studio. My one location is in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, which is just outside Charleston.
Camelia: Hi everyone, I am Camelia Coupal, one of the co-founders and owners of Coupa Café. We’re a family-owned establishment along with my brother and we live here in Palo Alto, California. Our 10 locations are here in the Bay Area: Palo Alto, Redwood City, and on the Stanford campus. Our café restaurant makes combinations of coffee, we roast our own coffee, and also has a food menu, from sandwiches, salads, specialties and burgers - a pretty international, big menu. 5 more locations are on the Stanford University campus, and the others are in the other cities that I mentioned.
Emily: Hi, I'm Emily Dobies. I am the retail operations manager at Ritual Coffee. We have 6 retail locations along with a roastery, where we also do mail order. Right now, we still have two locations open, hopefully reopening our café in Napa. We are located in San Francisco.
Tiara: Good morning everyone, my name is Tiara Hicks. I am the Chief People Officer for Prime Hospitality Group. We are a franchisee of Ruth’s Chris Steak House. We have 7 of those locations spread out. We also have 2 of our own concepts, a wine and pizza bistro, Ben23, and a whiskey bar called The Exchange, which we are opening up. We are still open in all of our locations except for our whiskey bar, and we have completely changed to being a to-go business, instead of the normal fine dining experience. So, definitely going to change for all of us.
Todd: Hi, my name is Todd Shays. My wife and I own Queen Bee Salon & Spa. We have three locations, two in the Los Angeles area, one in Culver City, one in Santa Monica Brentwood, and the other one in downtown Seattle. We were in both states required to completely close and cease all operations on March 16th. So, we were kind of in that mode, other than a little bit of E-commerce, there are no operations that we can have. We had to furlough our entire staff on March 16th.
On Store Closures and the PPP
(08:20 - 12:48)
Lydia: First topic: Store closures. As you got the news from your local governments and were told that you’re not an essential business and you’re going to need to close, what was that actual sort of process like? In terms of determining which locations you would close first. Then as you inform your staff of this, how has it shifted from the furlough to pain insurance for them and where it's going next time? I believe Todd, you've had some interesting shifts over the past 2 and a half months, especially considering what the Payroll Protection Program (PPP) situation is.
Todd: On the day that we ended up closing, we were already busy recalibrating our entire business, to slow things way down to create a flow for clients to come through the spas. As we worked through that, we just became more and more uneasy with staying open, and actually, we had decided internally to close about four hours before the governor closed us. So, we spent most of that day calling our staff, 2 at a time, about 17 phone calls, letting our staff know. They all understood, but most of our staff has a huge incentive piece to their pay – it’s a commission plus tips. And we were not set up to be able to carry staff when we're closed. Everyone understood, and the next step is the PPP. I got a call this morning from the lender, it's possibly moving forward, but I'm thinking I probably don't want it because it's not a good program when you're closed. I'd be pulling some people off unemployment, who don't want to come off unemployment because they just started getting paid. The rules on the reimbursement with the grant part are so undefined still, it just makes me nervous. So we'll see where that goes.
Lydia: I know some people have actually taken the PPP already, but who else has just decided that they're not going to be able to do it, either because the staff wants to stick with unemployment? And what are the financial differences between if they did unemployment versus PPP?
Emily: We applied for the PPP; we haven't received anything yet. We were eager to keep people on. It was a very tricky situation in the beginning. We know that everyone has individual situations that would factor into whether they wanted to work, or were able to, or needed to. We just went to our staff: “Here are your options. You can choose to not work and we will furlough you, or if you'd like to keep working then we're going to see how many people we have, and open locations based on that.” And once we had our core crew, that's how we decided to focus on our largest operations and keeping those open. So, right now our crew at those cafes are from multiple different locations. Honestly, I know that our owner is very eager, the PPP funding would be huge particularly for our grocery operations. Because we haven’t needed to. We have scaled back on our staffing a little bit, but not as drastically as at the café level. Being able to bring people back and keep them working in terms of our marketing, quality control, with our roasting and production, it would be a game-changer for us.
Communicating With and Helping Out Employees
(12:49 - 18:09)
Lydia: I know that you have gone through this with your staff, and also had HR challenges with just keeping people informed because of how you communicate with people who don't check their emails, and have full voice mails. How is that going for Coupa Café as you're making a lot of changes right now?
Camelia: For us, it has been a really big challenge to communicate with the staff, all 150 employees. Many of them don’t have email accounts. Even when we try to set up things digitally, they don't have emails, and some of them don’t have smartphones. With that being a challenge, they provide different phone numbers, sometimes with their wife’s phone and home phone. We are trying to chase the account, calling different numbers. We’ve shut down some of our operations on March 16th, and we have a paycheck coming up. Everyone came and got that paycheck. Even though many have direct deposit, we were able to have a conversation with everyone and give letters out with information. I think our staff that is struggling the most, the majority of them the Hispanic community staff. They don't have the same access to information that many of us do. Some of them think it’s happening only in Palo Alto, and some of them are going to move to another state or country, but we are telling them that this is happening in the whole country and world. It’s hard to explain to them what's happening.
We have been communicating a lot of resources to our staff. We have created a business WhatsApp group where we are able to send them information on rent assistance and different food programs. For a lot of our staff, this is hitting them hard, some of them are unable to apply for unemployment. For them, they have small kids, and they didn’t know that they can go to the food bank, or they can go to schools where they are giving out free meals for the children. Giving them a lot of information on our end has been hard, but we are trying to get it to them. For those that were not able to download WhatsApp, or don’t have access to what we're giving them, we have somebody who used to work with them or does work with them that is communicating the information. So, at this point, that is kind of where we are at. It's been hard; they're not as technology savvy as we had hoped they were so that they can be on top of everything as we are.
Lydia: Each of you, with your staff, has been helpful in terms of opportunities for them to get assistance or free services. It is different state by state, but I'm curious what has been done to help them? Are there other services that your employees have found especially useful, such as the free lunches for students to be able to go to school to pick those up?
Camelia: One, there is a moratorium for rent eviction in Santa Clara County and San Mateo County, and a lot of our staff live in East Palo Alto and Redwood City. Giving them the template that they are supposed to give their landlords in terms of: “Hey, I can’t pay my rent because my work is unable to be open right now.” They have the language to give. Because a lot of them are scared of whether their rent is formal or informal, they're able to not get evicted right now. There is a whole map of distribution. Not only the school districts that are giving out free meals during the day, it obviously helps families save money by not going to the grocery stores, but there are also different food banks if you live in those areas.
All they have to do is to know where to go, but if nobody tells them, then how do they know? A lot of this information is online. But if they don't have the internet at home, it is not coming up on the radio. That’s what we are trying to give them on a weekly basis, giving them new updates. I'm able to gather them because I have different girlfriends who are social workers, or are in different public schools, and I ping them every day to ask for any updates. They give me the updates and we are able to let our staff know. The saddest part is that the people who are suffering the most are the poorest people of all. This hits them financially big time. If they can’t get their paycheck, they can't eat. That’s not everyone; there are all these other people who are “Whoo! I am on unemployment; we’re going to sit at home and relax for a few months.” Other people who can’t get unemployment and if they're not working, they're not eating – it is to that point.
Other Employment Opportunities and How Businesses Survive
(18:10 - 27:20)
Lydia: It's incredibly hard right now. Have you seen, with employees who have happened to be furloughed, they take temporary work? On our end, for Workstream, just as a hiring platform we have 5,000 hiring managers. We're seeing a surge of applicants going to these delivery service companies and driver companies and other contract temporary things. How much of your staff that is furloughed have you seen being able to find other work, or take temporary projects?
Camelia: We at Coupa Café haven't seen much. I know a few of our staff members before working with us, some of them were doing Doordash. But yesterday, I was in one of our cafes and one of the guys is working on Doordash on the side. People are not eating out as much, and even though restaurants are open, I think at first, a lot of people were scared to order delivery. There was a lot of unknown as it is covered on the news a lot, whether the virus passed on through food, is it the person touching it, and should you just pick up the food so there is no extra hand. There was this whole fear. So I think that in general, they all have declined, and there are a lot of restaurants that are not open, even though they can be. Either they're not set up for take-out and delivery, or the business owner decided to shut down, and decided to not continue operating because of the financial hardship that the business is bringing upon them. In general, I think that it's not so easy to just pick up another job right now. I know other companies are trying to hire more people, but out of our current staff, I don't know if any have been able to find a different job.
Lydia: With Amanda, with Tin Pot, you at first closed some locations and shifted your operations and changed the hours as you saw it slow down. But now, people seem to be more excited for ice cream and less worried about the risk, could you take me through what the process has been over the past two months?
Amanda: Like what Camelia had mentioned, I think there is a fear in the public of transference of coronavirus through food. So, we did see a drastic decrease in our sales in the beginning. Now, it seems like we have a lot of business, we added on UberEats and Grab, and we already had a Doordash. We've seen a lot of business come directly through delivery from our retail locations. Right now, we reduced the hours because we were open early when there was more traffic, but now we're open from 1 to 8 at all of our locations. We had to reduce the hours; we've had to furlough most of our staff in the beginning just because we just didn't have the business to be able to support them. And now that we are seeing week over week increases, we’re trying to hire them back and add more hours to our staff. Now, we are even preparing for the time outside of coronavirus. We're hiring for our scooper positions, and everyone in our retail locations to try and get up to our normal summer staffing. Because once shelter in place is over, we're going to have to be prepared, and we want to make sure that we are able to do that. We can also support our employees, give them hours, and make sure that they are properly trained on the new coronavirus safety standards. So, now is a good time for us to start doing that.
Lydia: Tiara, what is going on in the Midwest right now with restaurants? How has the public been, and have you seen a pick up in the delivery and other options as you have to shift your businesses?
Tiara: When they initially did the shutdown of restaurants, it was a 24-hour directive. It was really quick, all of a sudden, we had to make a quick shift, we had to figure out what to do with our teams, how we were going to continue to get revenue. We didn't have all of the delivery platforms established because that wasn't our main focus. We were hospitality and we wanted them to come inside and enjoy the experience. We had to make some major shifts; it was all hands on deck. We didn’t know how many team members we were going to need to be able to support the new business model. We were figuring it out as we go. We started with keeping all of our managers and ended up sending home hourly folks, and we paid them for a whole week afterward to give us some time to figure out what we needed to do. Ultimately, we ended up furloughing most of them. Again communication too, I sent them links to apply for jobs. We also started a program where we did a family meal, where we provided a meal to feed up to 4 people, and employees just reserved and came in the next day and picked up their meals for their families. We were able to do that and continue to support. As our business has picked up with the to-go ordering, we've had a few staff do a slide-or-drive-through. So, they were able to still interact with their customers, where they have their customers swing by in their minivans, pick up set lunches, and it was a way to continue to drive our business. With our business picking up, we were able to call more people back to try to resume as normal. In our Arkansas location, we are looking at opening it next Monday and I think it's going to be at 50% capacity. We're starting to prepare for how we can continue to provide that to-go-meal and then shift to 50% capacity or whatever reduced capacities is going to allow us to open as we proceed through this.
Lydia: What delivery services have been most useful for the 4 of you who are in the food and beverage business? Are there new services that you have picked up in order to increase the number of potential purchasers?
Camelia: For Coupa, thank God we were already set up with everything – Doordash, Postmate, UberEats. We’ve seen more and more of an increase now, I think as people are getting sick of cooking at home and being quarantined and locked down for so many weeks already. I would say that one of the big hits is catering, events, weddings, which are nonexistent. All of that part is gone, and that used to be a big business. But we are seeing, for example, a lot of box lunches for the hospitals, and donations like that as another revenue stream for keeping staff employed, and then at the same time feeding all the healthcare and frontline workers.
Giving Back and Customer Gift Cards
(27:21 - 38:35)
Lydia: You have built over 1000 boxes for hospitals, is that right?
Camelia: Right away when all this started, we were in discussions with the hospitals in Palo Alto and our community, and we put up a donation link directly on our website where customers and guests could buy a box lunch. A box lunch would include a meal or a wrap, a bag of chips, and the cookie, and everything is individually boxed. And when we reach 25, we could feed a whole unit in the hospital. A lot of people wanted to help us. That was a way to not only feed the healthcare worker, but you get employed staff at Coupa – cooks working and preparing, and delivery team to send everything to the hospital. Since we’ve started this when everything began, we've already delivered over 1000 box lunches to healthcare workers. We have been working with different teams in different cities, trying to partner with restaurants that are still open and can provide individual box lunches, which is what they need right now because of the concern of contamination, and if it is an open buffet, that’s going to be a problem. We were set up and had a whole catering team that was prepared to handle large quantities of box lunches. The cost of re-employment or us giving hours to them because they never left, it keeps them happy and motivated. They feel the pride of feeding a doctor, and I get to make it for them. It has been lovely. We had different donors reach out who want to directly donate, we had a donor reach out to donate 500 box lunches to the Palo Alto Medical Foundation Respiratory Clinic in San Carlos. Again it is 2 ways, they employ our staff, and we get to feed them; getting a paycheck for their families, and we are feeding all these healthcare workers.
Lydia: That's amazing. We had a question come in: how have selling gift cards helped people? Specifically addressed to Coupa. But I would love to hear from each of you, what the tactics have been to sell gift cards, and how that has been going?
Camelia: At first, when all this started, we ran a promo that was “buy a $100 Coupa gift card and get a $15 bonus.” We do this every few months in a year. We have a big loyal following of customers that all live in the area, and they repeat on a daily basis. Especially on the Stanford campus because they live on campus. They take advantage of the promo to give them $15 extra besides all the rewards that our gift card offers in general. At first, we were able to bring in revenue, more than anything, to keep staff employed and keep the door open. When all of this started happening, we felt like our business just evaporated overnight. We went from being open from 7 in the morning to 11 pm every day, to having to shut down locations and not knowing what to do. Everything was very difficult at first to change, for everyone. It was the unknown and the sudden complete change. Bringing on the gift card was a way – people wanted to donate – it was a way of helping small businesses. We got a lot of requests on how to help us by buying our gift cards. They knew small restaurants were rough work and were suffering through this. We stopped at first, and I think Todd will talk about that as he mentioned it yesterday. But it is money sitting there and they want to use it after, but if you don’t have the bank or revenue to pay for it then that is not going to work. But in our case, because we are still open and people want to use it, to place their pick up, to-go, and delivery order, I think it’s a bonus for them as well as it helps the restaurant.
Lydia: As you mentioned, Todd, on our prep call, you were chatting about the gift cards and also how you've shifted to move a lot of your products onto the website. Could you take us through that and how that has been helpful to you?
Todd: We're in the personal services business, we're just simply not allowed to operate. So, gift cards are one place to get fast cash. But our thinking on that was we're closed and we can't be kind of redeeming them as they go. Obviously, anyone who runs a gift card program, over time you would tend to accumulate a balance that's not redeemed. There's always a percentage of gift cards that really are kind of permanent income to the company. But we didn't want to push heavily for gift cards now, because that would just be a form of another loan. We have this huge pent- up demand and when we do reopen, and when we need cash most, people are redeeming our gift cards that they bought in March and April. We've sold several, and the client messages are so heartening and mean a lot to us, but we didn't want to push it. Instead, what we were able to do is we got permission from a couple of the skincare lines that normally restrict their salons and spas from selling on their websites, and they have allowed us to do so. We were able to take skincare products that have a shelf life and push that out through our e-commerce channels. We ended up very quickly rebuilding our web store to get that going and having one of our people come in a couple of days a week to pack and ship the e-commerce orders. That's helped clear the inventory, which is cash on the shelf that’s getting old and also brings in some cash which helps with the fixed costs that we can do nothing about, like rent and utilities especially. They don't go anywhere, the software subscription for the booking systems that we use, you can't just turn them off and turn them back, these are costs that are going to continue for as long as we're closed. That was our view on gift cards.
Lydia: Yeah, it's the ups and downs. Bill, I think you had a similar issue, where you sell gift cards and now people want to redeem them, and how do you sell gift cards while also setting expectations that we're not going to surge right after re-opening. How's that going for you and are you changing your gift card policies or your membership?
Bill: Similar to Todd, we are closed. Not sure at this point when we will be able to reopen, obviously it's dependent upon the governor or state. We have a gift card program out there that the corporate franchise had set up for us, but we haven't sold them. And as Todd said, we're not open, we're not sure when we can open. I think in this regard, it isn't something that we're pushing. It's a tough time for us, everybody has their kind of seasonality but past the normal holidays, May is Mother's Day and it's a very important time for us or would be an important time for us. We would be selling gift cards right now as far as Mother’s Day is concerned. A lot of it is, I hate to say it, it’s husbands walking in during the middle of the week and saying I need something for my wife, the mother of my children, and here’s a gift card. So, we're going to have to think past that, in terms of when they come back and how do we set expectations. Because I think what you said, we get calls every day for people wanting to come in, literally every day. Well, I hope you're watching the news because we're closed, and we can’t help you. Our challenge is that when we do open, it is setting expectations. We do have a membership base, we have been pulling our monthly auto payments, but that's also because it constitutes a session. It's not like a gym membership where you lose a month, it’s you now have a one-hour session sitting on your account for you to use down the road.
But as Todd said, that’s revenue now that won’t be revenue later. That's going to be an obligation that will impact us down the road. It is going to be sending expectations with what are the new protocols for how we handle the customers. They are all going to be coming in and we're going to have to space out appointments, we're going to have to really be careful how many employees we use. That is going to be the challenge for us, to understand how we can deal with what might be an initial height and opportunity for us to get all these people in, and we're not going to be able to be at our normal capacity because we're going have to find out what our capacity is going to be in the short term. That's our challenge right now that we are waiting on. It's one thing to say, “You'll definitely be open July 1st,” as opposed to every week or so, it's “another two weeks.” This week we had actually planned to have a lot of our employees back in to do training because two weeks ago we thought we might be opening as of May 1st and maybe we'd open May 4th or 5th in terms of training. When the governor told us it will be another two weeks, we're putting off that training. It's really hard to keep everybody motivated. They are all sitting there. Some of them are waiting to come back, some of them are hesitant. That's our challenge, how do we measure that piece of it.
Lydia: We did just have a question come in: how can people purchase gift certificates? I think someone wants to get one for their mother-in-law.
Bill: A lot of people go online, for us you go to my website and you'd be able to purchase a gift card. I'm sure from almost everybody else here, it is probably very similar in terms of how you will be able to access that information and be able to do it. It is part of our ongoing piece, which we appreciate in terms of corporate’s support. They just kind of set up this program for all the studios as opposed to us having to do something, it was kind of nice in that regard.
Leveraging E-Commerce Opportunities
(38:36 - 43:46)
Lydia: That's great. With Coupa café, you guys actually shifted your business quite a bit, with moving the entire grocery program onto your website. Could you take us through that and how that's been going? I believe Ritual as well has also been building up a ton of e-commerce offerings.
Emily: We have changed a lot about our operations since shelter in place went into effect on March 17th. Part of that was at one of our cafes, we got our staff PPE, we put up a sheet of plastic glass, and some semblance of business as normal. At our café, we pivoted to, we’re calling it “Ritual plus general store,”; our owner’s first job was working at a general store. So as soon as this happened, she said: “We need to get innovative about what we're selling, what people want, and how we're going to keep our business running on a different level.” The first thing we did was to reach out to other local businesses that were closed, or ones that we had already partnered with, like our bakers who made our croissants, and the daily things that people would come to the cafe and get one of. We started asking if they make loaves of bread? Going to our dairy provider to ask if we can also get butter. Things that people need and want and might be having trouble getting, or to be able to go to a one-stop shop, where they don't have to go inside and be able to pick up groceries. We started carrying juices and soups from Cancan, an incredible baker, we started carrying her brioches. It's been a really fun project. We also started carrying things like hand sanitizer and soaps. We also launched an order-ahead online presence. It is basically a whole new website that's attached to our Square account. We set that up so that people can place everything in their cart.
Camelia: We launched coupagrocery.com, where similar to Ritual, you can place a full supermarket order from produce – tomatoes, lettuce, corn, artichoke, spinach, jalapenos, all sorts of vegetables, fruits, bananas, apples, pineapple. We also sell supplies, toilet paper, gloves, hand sanitizer. We sell everything from prepared food to containers of rice, quinoa, lentils, different sorts of vegetables, and chicken. Everything for those who don't cook or don’t want to cook at home to prepare and get everything ready. We also sell beer and wine to-go, which was a great law that they passed because before beer and wine was not allowed to be taken out, you had to consume it on site. With everything that happened, we were able to move our inventory a lot. We sell our coffee beans, all sorts of dairy, yogurt, cheeses, etc. We are adding more into the selection of items that we make and items that we can bring in. It's pretty much a completely different business model than what we're used to doing and we are seeing a huge demand for it. People don't want to go to the grocery store, and the lead time for Instacart or Amazon Prime is too long, too many days to wait for them and by the time you get your order in, your whole cart shopper is unable to find anything that you want.
We have a lot of customers saying: “Thank you so much, you saved us from having to stand in line at the grocery store.” People can come and pick up their groceries, but we also deliver within a certain radius to people’s homes. In our catering scene, we have our delivery vans, thank God we were already set up for a lot of these things. To learn a new business model, packing and all, with 50 orders of groceries and how to bag everything and how to separate orders. It has been a different model and we are going to focus on that right now because there is the demand, and because the restaurants are still not able to operate how they used to operate before.
Hiring Strategies and Preparations for Reopening
(43:47 - 51:50)
Lydia: That makes sense. Tiara, with Ruth’s Chris and these restaurants that would have to close because it's not the take out, it's not the café, I'm sure you've had to sort out a large chunk of your staff, either to furlough, or they've switched to other things. When you do plan to open all of your locations again, how are you planning to hire? Are you going to hire a few weeks in advance? But also, what are you doing because as a franchise business, you can't necessarily be shifting your business model? Instead, what are you doing to prep for reopening?
Tiara: Right now, we are putting together a people strategy, a welcome back platform, and how we are going to go about that. Because we're opening at a limited capacity, we're having to assess our team members and figure out who's been cross-trained in the most areas, so that they have versatility, they are a team player, they can come back and they can cover in multiple locations as needed. We are first looking at who's been trained and certified in what areas, then we are calling each employee to find out what their availability is. And then we're going to build schedules based on the capacity of our restaurants and where we are and what our needs are. We're taking it in a 3-phase approach, and hopefully, by the third phase we’re at complete capacity, we’re open, it's normal, and all of our people are back.
Lydia: Hopefully sooner than later. We’ll talk about contactless delivery. Are you guys taking the contactless interview and training approach? How much of what you're doing right now is through video as you interact with your staff?
Tiara: For us, we have a similar situation where we discovered it's more challenging than we expected to interact and engage with our hourly employees. They did not all sign up for HotSchedules, we use that as our communication tool where we can text and email our employees. So, we've had to send a lot of messages when they come to pick up their meals. To backtrack a little bit to your gift card program, we did something where 20% of any of our gift card sales went into employee funds, and we raised $50,000 and we were able to issue over 500 $100 checks to all of our team members. That was a big incentive to come in and talk face-to-face when they picked up their checks. As far as training to get them back up to speed again and recertify, we just planned our scheduling a day before we can open and that they return to work. We'll have to phase that in, but we haven't been able to utilize as much technology as needed to be able to get everybody up to speed.
Lydia: With this management team, how is everyone getting together to make these decisions? What is the cadence of the leadership meetings and decision processes as things are changing so rapidly?
Amanda: In the beginning, I feel like everyone had their little moment of panic. We ran a few financial models to figure out if it was worth us staying open. Luckily, since our sales have increased, we’re able to stay open which is better than us closing all our locations. But our management team is in contact every day. Multiple times a day we’re calling each other just to figure out staffing or what is the best way to move forward, is our delivery platform doing well? We have also increased our distribution points and switched a lot to wholesale. We're seeing really great sales there, we just added 45 locations in Whole Foods. That was a big win for us throughout coronavirus and everything that's happening. We also launched a website as well, a new website, and we've launched nationwide shipping. So, we have done a lot of things with our management team to be able to get through the process of coronavirus and to help us out and keep our employees employed and give them hours and try to limit as much impact as we can. But obviously, on the retail side, that’s similar to everyone else, we’ve seen impact there.
Lydia: We have an interesting question that came in: One of our living centers had to close due to COVID-19. I am curious if anyone in the panelist has any recommendations for PR specialists on the topic of re-opening. They are based in California. Is anyone here working with PR teams? I believe Amanda you have been leveraging on your landlords to get the word out. What has been working to help them with some of the press issues that you guys are dealing with?
Amanda: Our landlords are very open to supporting all of the tenants in their communities, not just food service but also retail businesses that are closed right now. They're doing a lot of programs for donations to frontline workers, but also helping to repost social media posts, helping to get the word out in the community that we are still open even with reduced hours. We have all these different platforms that we can use. They're also putting together a lot of different programs that the businesses can participate in to make sure that we are all still top-of-mind for consumers, and despite the coronavirus, we’re still getting that kind of connection with our community.
How The Community Supports Businesses
(51:51 - 59:47)
Lydia: I want to be respectful of everyone's time, this has been so incredibly helpful just to chat with all of the business centers that are impacted here. I would love to just end on a positive note, I feel like there isn't enough of that right now with just the never-ending “when are things going to get back to normal.” So, if everyone could share perhaps what was one thing that somebody did to help your business or to promote.
Camelia: Of course, these are unprecedented sometimes. I think what’s most interesting is that literally every single country is going through this. That’s the first time, at least in our generation, that anybody has seen this. It is not one city or state. It is everyone. Everyone is going through lockdown and changes, everyone is being impacted, from small businesses to large corporations, everyone is feeling the hit. In terms of Coupa, we’ve had an amazingly loyal customer who came in and dropped off a $500 check and said, “This is for you, I need to see you open.” Feeling that love, that people do care, people want to help, where they ask every day what they can do to support our team. Well, it is ordering, it is coming in and ordering pickup, takeout, delivery, it is donating to the healthcare workers by buying these box lunches, ordering groceries through us. The more we can sell, the more we can employ, and we can keep our staff in our company alive, and I think that's what we all want. Everybody needs to make a living and the ones that are going to be impacted the most through all these are going to be the workers, where they live paycheck to paycheck. So, we need to get a paycheck to them, because they need to be able to eat and survive through this difficult period. I think that is our biggest concern and why we want everyone to keep supporting small businesses and all businesses.
Todd: We’ve seen gift cards being purchased and the “from” is, when they bought on the website, is from themselves, and the “to” is to team Queen Bee, and there's just a really lovely message in there: “Someday in the future, I look forward to seeing you again.” We've seen a couple of e-commerce orders that are unusually large, and we know that it's being done to support us, so that means a lot. I think the biggest thing for me and my wife has been to dig deep and to be resilient because for us the most important thing is to keep our team motivated and believing, and they are looking to leaders who can give them hope. We don't know when we're going to reopen, but we're together as a team. We're doing pretty regular zoom calls and just staying connected. So, when we are ready to go now, we're ready to go.
Bill: I want to echo what Todd said because as I mentioned earlier, we have people calling us every day. We’re a membership base, so we've got members calling us every day saying: “I'm ready to set up an appointment, when can I come in?” They're very understanding of what's going on and are appreciative of the fact that we are being honest with them. We have told them, at least for our membership base, that they’ll be the first to know, and to make sure that they are able to come in there at the first time. It really is important to them, as far as that is concerned, and I think having that ongoing communication with them is really important to, for us at least, solidify our members and make sure that they come back. It's something that, I’ll say is low touch, where they're calling us and we will send out a few emails, but it is meaningful to them. Similar to Todd, I've had a couple of Zoom calls with the whole team, and I have been heartened by the fact that most of the people are there. It's not 20% are calling in, it's almost 100% participation, and it does make me feel good. I think they're appreciative to be understanding about what's going on. And I think as Camelia said, it is not just my industry or just my group, everybody has been affected by this. No matter where you are, as I mentioned earlier, I've got a daughter in New York, I’ve got a son in Chicago. Everybody has been affected by this, they all have their experiences. Staying in touch with who those folks are has been really helpful.
Lydia: Thank you all so much for joining, and hopefully we’ll get you on again soon when we all have our lives back to normal.
In summary: The webinar was a great thought-sharing experience where everyone pitched in with their own experiences, what has been motivating them, and strategies to help keep their business afloat. And in the case of establishments that had to close down completely during lockdown, our panelists have shared ways to utilize tech to touch base with customers and team members alike.
Would you like more tips and information on how to hire during this trying time, or how to use features like automated messaging to keep in touch with your staff? Workstream is here to help - schedule a chat with us today.
Lydia Fayal Hall is Head of Marketing at Workstream. She previously held leadership roles at OneSignal and Chalkup, acquired by Microsoft. Lydia has written for publications including The Wall Street Journal and Forbes. She is an alum of UPenn, Johns Hopkins, and YCombinator IK12. Originally from Stonington, CT, Lydia now resides in San Francisco, CA with her Australian Shepherd, Indy.