Lessons learned after one year of Covid!
The pandemic has created a big shift for many small businesses, including us. Most of our business pre pandemic was been based in weddings, conferences, festivals, and other large gatherings so we needed to get creative in 2020 (and beyond!).
While we've had so many challenges, we're still standing more than one year later, and are pretty darn proud (as we all should be)! Read on to see our most valuable lessons from this wacky year from the perspectives of Owner, Alyssa, and our Candy Manager, Carly.
PIVOOOOOT (Ross Geller Voice!)
Alyssa: This past year has tested this little business of ours like no other. We have had to pivot and reinvent more times this calendar year than we have in the (almost) 8 years since starting The Sugar Cube. It has been a true test of small businesses capabilities to roll with the punches and learn as you go!
- Have fun with new products! This year we tested and released more new products than ever before, because we had to get inventive on how we bring the candy to the people without our truck - and because people are celebrating like never before (hello, drive by birthdays!).
- When you find a product that works, stick with it! We have repurposed our successful new products for nearly every occasion and holiday. It makes things easy from a production perspective - but still keeps it exciting and fresh for all of our customers.
- Once you can offer an easy gifting solution that people can rely on - you will gain their loyalty and they are likely to come back for future celebrations and occasions. As a business owner it not only makes the sales cycle much easier but this has actually allowed us to get to know and connect with our clients like never before!
GET LEAN, GET SAVVY!
Alyssa: We have learned lots of lessons (both good and bad) - but above all we have learned that creativity and perseverance can get you through. We have learned to do more with less including:
- Running the show with less staff. When the pandemic hit we were in the midst of hiring our seasonal staff for our event season. Boy, did our world get shifted! Amongst the uncertainty and new restrictions we had to learn to run with 1/3 the staff we normally would. Thankfully as we hadn't hired our seasonal staff yet, we technically didn't have to do any layoffs - which we are very grateful for.
- Due to protocols we had to stagger the shifts when people worked, and cut out majority of our in person pick ups. We shifted to offering FREE contactless delivery in order to keep both our staff and our customers safer. This came at an additional cost to us but was important for us to be able to encourage people to spread some joy during this tough time. It was an added cost that we think paid off ten fold in helping to bring some joy when people needed it the most!
SET YOUR SPACE UP FOR SUCCESS
Carly: I think I've rearranged the space about 10 times over the past year to accommodate the ever changing landscape and challenges we have come across.
- Packaged candy would normally stay boxed up for truck events but it needed to work better for creating baskets and surprise bags in house so we needed to completely alter our warehouse setup to accommodate!
- Similarly, we aren't doing Candy Buffets right now, so we have repurposed that space into a shipping station, since we are now shipping more product across Canada than ever before!
- Needs also shifted later that year from just me in the warehouse to having four of us in there for the Halloween-Valentine's season so we had to set that up differently to meet those needs. I feel that we've nearly reached a setup that will work long term but I'm sure I'll be doing some more shifting soon!
GET COMFORTABLE WITH DIGITAL!
Alyssa: Digital isn't going anywhere anytime soon, and if nothing else, the pandemic has helped to show us how important it is to be a focus of our business. It was a much needed 'step back and work ON the business not IN the business' moment - and a good kick in the butt!
In the last year we've done so much work on the backend of our business in order to make pulling orders and creating delivery routes a breeze!
- We (Alyssa's husband) invested lots of time into building out a custom production schedule for Shopify which allowed us to easily to see what needed to be made on a day by day basis - streamlining how we made and pulled orders, saving us hundreds of hours!
- It also helped us to predict what orders were coming up over the next coming weeks - this helped us to manage and order inventory at a more efficient rate and work ahead of schedule during the busy times!
- We invested in a proper delivery routing system. With a couple of us out doing local deliveries at a time, we needed a solution that would more easily export from Shopify into a routing system and to make sure the routes were as efficient as possible.
DON'T BE AFRAID TO THROW STUFF AT THE WALL AND SEE WHAT STICKS.
Carly: As mentioned before, we rolled out over a dozen new products last year, initially riffing off of our current products.
- Advent Calendars evolved into Quarantine Calendars, Birthday Countdowns, Mother's Day Packages, and Weekly Survival Kits.
- We also looked at gaps in what we were currently selling and came up with our Spread The Joy Packages, easily portioned candy bags to disperse however you see fit. Our Valentine's version with a card add on was so popular that we ran out of stickers right before Valentine's Day (more learning!).
I think this year has also made us more open to trying things. The idea for our Carrot Candy Bags came from some pastry bags we had in our packaging stash that Alyssa had been wanting to get rid of for a while. We posted a sample on our Instagram Stories and have had to order more to make sure we could keep up with the demand! It's always exciting when you can successfully repurpose things!
YOU CAN HAVE IMPACT EVEN IF YOU'RE "JUST SELLING CANDY."
Carly: Last summer, we were sending candy packages to medical clinics all over the city for a client. I went to drop off one of these gifts and the person tending the front desk was stunned upon receiving the gift and immediately started crying.
I ended up sitting with her for a couple of minutes while she confided in me that they had been open seven days a week since March and the stress and burnout was pushing them to the breaking point. This small token of appreciation meant so much. It was a $5 CandyGram - THAT is the effect that small gestures can make for someone - you never know what they're going through!
We're not out there on the front lines or in the labs, but we're can support in other ways by...
- Helping kids have fun birthdays even if they couldn't celebrate with their friends...
- Giving someone peace of mind that they can enjoy some delicious candy that's allergen free...
- Connecting people who can't be together right now to celebrate or grieve...
- Thanking the people who are working around the clock to help keep us all as safe as possible with a little treat to help get them through their shift...
...and we think that's pretty freaking awesome!
YOU GUYS ARE AMAZING AND WONDERFUL AND WE LOVE YOU!
Alyssa: We've all been struggling this year on some capacity, but we at The Sugar Cube are SO thankful for all of you who have kept us in business and busy! Every single order, share, shoutout, and review SERIOUSLY means the world to us! We would not be surviving this pandemic without each and every one of you. So THANK YOU!
When you shop small and local you are truly making an impact - and keeping roofs over peoples heads and food in their fridge.