Between business model pivots, supply chain interruptions, and new safety protocols, small business owners continue to face an upward battle against the challenges presented by the coronavirus (COVID-19). From quarantine drinks to tips on staying motivated, Arnaud Petitvallet, a Canadian small business owner and Operations Manager of Wize Monkey, shares his experiences and key learnings on running a sustainable business during this time.
Arnaud PetitvalletCo-Founder & Operations Manager
Innovators of Coffee Leaf Tea, selling online and through retail locations across Canada.
Years in operation: 4; we started in 2013 as a school project, and started really producing and selling in early 2016 in Canada.
Number of employees: 7
How has COVID-19 impacted your business?
Like everybody else, we’ve had to get used to working from home and change our ways of communication internally and with our customers.
Back in March, we’ve had to switch our focus to our online channels as stores started getting overwhelmed and focused on the bare essentials they needed.
We saw a 50% increase in our online sales in March and April, and had to keep up the pace while being in a situation of slower manufacturing. We’ve had built some stock earlier in February, which helped us deal with the immediate influx of orders.
We’ve been lucky to have a great co-packing facility with high safety standards that kept manufacturing during the pandemic, at a slower rate, but that kept us active during all this time. And also great customers that were supportive and patient as our supply chain was slowed down.
What are the challenges of running a business based on sustainable practices during this time?
Everything is an opportunity or a potential catastrophe, and sometimes you don’t quite know what it is. Being a small structure, my co-founder and I have to keep tabs of all the potential upsides (boosting our e-commerce presence, taking advantage of online advertising reduced rates, being there for customers and providing support) while making sure we’re not taking advantage of the situation and are out of line with our followers. On top of this, we have to keep track of all the different governmental and safety measures, try to anticipate when things could go back to a new “normal”, revisit our supply chain and our strategy in this new context… all while trying to launch a new product line for the summer! We’re lucky to have switched a lot of our existing strategy to e-commerce in 2019, as it gave us the tool to be prepared for such a crisis and to make sure we could still launch our new product without relying on the physical, classic channels of distribution.
From a logistical point of view, have your delivery/distribution operations changed?
We kept the existing we had, but had to reduce our number of shipping days to once or twice a week to reflect the change in safety protocols. Having the business shift more to e-commerce meant relying even more on our shipping partners to get our products distributed directly to customers.
When do you predict things will get back to the new normal?
We’re thinking late summer. Even then, we could experience a second wave in the fall again, so trying to be very cautious here. Social distancing is here to stay.
Once we get back to the new normal, how do you foresee your industry changing?
In the 2010s, Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) was not as developed for online sales as beauty or fashion. It only represented a couple of percentage of overall sales, with customers still going to stores for the majority of their purchases. We’re seeing now a larger (and older) demographic starting to buy groceries online, and are starting to appreciate the convenience and safety factors. Those two factors will stay top of mind with customers, and while physical grocery will still dominate, the increased share of e-commerce CPG sales is here to stay.
What resources have you found helpful?
For business owners: the “Government programs available to support Canadian entrepreneurs through the coronavirus pandemic” article from MaRS compiles all the resources available at this time.
What advice do you have for other small business owners?
Creativity and adaptation are key! This is the best time to experiment and be bold, so don’t do the same as everyone else. Be resilient, as this can continue for longer than expected.
How do you and your team stay motivated?
My co-founder and I compiled a lot of the content we love and put it all together in a Wize Culture – Quarantine Content open spreadsheet to share with our followers. Music, TV, documentaries, books etc., all curated by us and our network. That definitely kept me going more than once, especially when looking for that perfect music to get you in the zone when you work.
What would you recommend as the perfect quarantine drink?
I drink a lot of Wize Monkey’s Mango Party when it starts to get warmer, and it makes a delicious iced tea as well! For nights staying in, Negroni is my cocktail of choice.
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