During the COVID-19 crisis.
Kind people from my social media followers to my regular customers to my friends and family are all checking in with me. They want to know if my business is okay and they want to know how they can help.
Like everyone else learning how to navigate life in this strange new world, I first and foremost acknowledge that I am grateful for my health, I’m grateful to be able to work from home, and I’m grateful to be in lockdown mode at home with my family.
Businesses come and go. My family is not replaceable.
Still, there’s no question I am suffering from the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. My business is so small that I do not have a brick and mortar place to sell my wine. Nearly 80% of my product is sold through distribution channels. That means restaurants and wine shops sell my wine in a handful of markets in the United States, thanks to the partnership of distributors.
As soon as social distancing became a hashtag and a trend, restaurants began to close, from state to state, and a state of emergency meant social gathering places, in general, would have to close. We all know the narrative about #Istayhome #socialdistancing and #flattenthecurve. Communities began to go home and stay home. Thank God! The real trouble has been the arrogant individuals and groups who refused to social distance or stay home. Little by little, every corner of our country has gone home.
The restaurant industry was hit hard from the start. Repercussions extended harm to all related businesses – including beverage distributors. Businesses had to get creative about servicing communities with food and beverage without putting people in harm’s way.
Suddenly, my income flatlined. I sent emails last week to distributors inquiring if outstanding and/or late invoices might be paid anytime soon, so I could get a realistic handle on what I was dealing with. As I had expected, the news was not good. A couple business partners were able to make good on their payments, that are set at Net-30. Unfortunately, the response was not enough to instill any relief or hope.
On the other hand, I have been using my social media channels to make offers on my direct to consumer wine sales. This has been moderately effective. In order to close the sales, however, I had to throw in complimentary shipping.
Shipping wine is a major problem. Cost is based on weight, to begin with. Ground shipping a case of wine across the country can cost more than the case of wine, itself. So, suffice it to say I am losing a gigantic amount of money by offering to cover shipping. I can’t stress enough what a deterrent shipping wine is on the online customer.
My current online sales are more than five times my average monthly sales. I know that most of that is riding the wave of the #athome boredom – people are going to drink. But, including shipping is a giant piece of the story.
Our local wine board had reported exceptional online sales for wineries – implying the wine industry is doing just fine. I wish that were the case.
While the temporary surge in online sales has been at least uplifting, it will not replace the gigantic piece missing from my monthly and quarterly sales. My costs to ship those wines will take about 35% of the revenues from my bank account.
Today, I applied for a small business emergency loan with the SBA, Small Business Administration. I’m not holding my breath. A loan doesn’t make me feel any better. So, I’m spending a chunk of my day away from running my business to research both state and nationally funded grants.
My business hit a critical challenge last year after the birth of my son. An unexpected, long recovery made it impossible for me to run my business. I was hoping to make up for 2019 in 2020. The coronavirus landed like a time bomb.
It feels uncomfortable to have grievances around a pandemic as it relates to my business. I do have perspective. I know what matters. People matter. That said, I’m scared for so many people. I’m an empath in agony. But, I am also feeling grief for the stress that has been placed on me and my family.
Every night, when I nurse my fourteen month old babe before bedtime, I am present. I don’t think of anything else. I hold him close and tight.
I don’t think about losing my first baby, my business.
I don’t think of the financial collapse. The frantic concern about when I will get paid and when I will be able to turn around and pay my debts.
When I signed up to be an entrepreneur, I didn’t think about the painful part of operating my business – the part I detest – the part where I have to follow up with accounting offices begging to get paid for my product that we both know sells out.
Some other “more important” winery or entity is getting paid from the profits of my wine. It’s a difficult thing to stomach. It feels icky, kind of like walking to your car after dinner to find the back window smashed open and your computer, briefcase, gym bag and favorite designer coat all stolen from the back seat.
In this case, I may not ever get my computer, briefcase, gym bag and favorite designer coat returned. If I’m lucky, I’ll walk a block and find the coat lying abandoned in a strange pile in an alley. And I’ll snicker to myself – idiot had no idea what this coat is worth.
I have no real hostility towards any of my distributors. They are likeable people! My grievance is with those who failed to pay invoices that were due long before the outbreak. It’s a sore spot with many small producers.
So many small businesses will become extinct in the coming weeks. While we wait and watch the curve extend however it will extend, we await far more important and critical results relating to life and death.
We await the fate of so many innocent people.
My business mantra has become clear:
Businesses come and go. People are not replaceable.
There are zero controls over the outcome of anything right now.
I have no idea what will happen to my family. We continue to stay home and pray that the virus doesn’t infiltrate our home through some random vector – like a letter in the mail. We assume everything is infected and sanitize everything, every surface, and wash our hands with every new introduced material that enters our home.
I have no idea what will come of my business. I just get up each morning, do a few yoga stretches, pour myself a cup of coffee, feed my son breakfast and get to work. Some days I actually get dressed. Most days I can’t get out of my pajamas.
Being an empath, being a mom who just emerged from a year of postpartum depression, being a scared daughter, sister, wife and mother – I have to keep a tight regimen to keep my sanity, to manage my anxiety.
Like everyone else learning how to navigate life in this strange new world, I first and foremost acknowledge that I am grateful for my health, for my family’s health, so far, and I’m grateful to be able to work from home, to be in lockdown mode at home with my family. I don’t want to go anywhere. Fear can be such an isolating feeling.
My husband and I agree that having our son a year ago prepared us for this moment. We spent the first month of our son’s life in an intentional “fourth trimester” keeping everyone out. That month was about my healing and our son’s schedule of nursing and sleeping. We did not welcome any visits or interruptions. That’s what we needed as a family. The newness of parenthood is an incredibly isolating feeling.
So, it kind of makes our current situation a little bit easier.
For now, I’m busy keeping myself busy. And, trying to give my son as much of myself as I possibly can. Surreal times indeed. We’re praying for the world right now.