Everyone reading this knows that we are a small business. Not as small as some, but pretty small. We have been in business for 5 years now....we started because we decided we wanted a different kind of life than a 9-5 job/career gives. We were not out to make a million dollars (but as someone recently said...a million dollars is not what it used to be...lol) we just wanted to grow as a family and get to spend time with each other, watch our kids grow and enjoy the life we have. Our goal was never to expand our business into needing a warehouse or a workshop outside the home. We started as a home-based business and that continues to be the goal.
Every year from the beginning, we grew. We reached more customers, we added to our social media presence, we got our products in a few stores...some wholesale/some commissioned. It was good, it was a slow but steady incline....it felt right for us. We attended a lot of events, craft fairs, markets, special festivals, our name was out there, we were "known", we had organizers contacting us asking if we wanted to be a part of their events. It was truly exactly how we imagined/dreamed/hoped it would be. We LOVED doing events, our products do very well when we are there to help explain why they are different from products you can find at the grocery store or other large chain stores. We love our products, we use our products....so it was easy to be enthusiastic about sharing them, and honestly, I think that is one of the reasons they did so well....because we believe in the products and believe they are for everyone. (Little side story, early on in the process, I attended a talk with a local media consultant about marketing small businesses....in the talk she stated that "Everyone is not your target audience"....when she asked me what we sell, I said "Soap Nuts....and I do truly believe everyone is our target audience." hahaha We all had a good laugh, but I was serious. I honestly believe there is no one out there would could not benefit from the use of soap nuts...but maybe that is a whole other blog post in itself. :P) We loved interacting with people, hearing their stories and being able to help them, when they needed something for their son with sensitive skin or their grandmother who has an allergy to most metals and has to be super picky about what earrings they use....we loved finding solutions for people when they came to us...sometimes even when that solution was not a product we sold, we would point them to another local business that could help them. We strived to be an old fashioned, local business and I really think we did a great job.
Then Covid-19 hit...and everything changed. Thankfully we had just finished up Christmas season, and it had been a good one, which would help sustain us in the winter months (that is how many small businesses, or large businesses for that matter operate...there are busy times that sustain the business through the slow times). But everything was so up in the air, markets we had signed up for were getting canceled, people we staying home, unsure what was happening with their jobs so in turn spending less. Then the government stepped in to help...which was a true miracle....but the rules were unclear, could we continue operating but not really selling anything or not enough, or did we have to "shut down" to be able to accept the help. As time went on, the rules changed, thank goodness, and we were able to have our business open (but without the main tool we use for our sales...craft markets, fairs and events) and still have the help our family so desperately needed. We didn't know how long any of that would last, the monetary help from the government and Covid-19 itself....would we go a year without markets? We never dreamed we would...but here we are the fall of 2021 and the markets are limited and the options are few.
What do we, as a small business, do now? Our goal has always been to try and stay local....although it is fun when orders come from non-local places...but we know the Atlantic provinces need local small businesses....and we really want to be one, we both grew up here and have never left. But with the lack of markets (and yes, some of them are starting again...but not as many, and the rules are going to make it harder for people to get out to them, and this is not a complaint about the rules...just the reality of it), how do we sustain our business? We did not want to give up our personal contact with our customers, that was one of the bonuses we honestly never saw in advance as we were preparing to open the business....but now it is one of the things I miss the most. We did not want to just have our products in stores....we wanted to provide our products to our customers directly, so they would feel comfortable asking questions and/or sharing success stories with us...and they have! But alas, is that where our business needs to head to be able to sustain itself? Do we need to align ourselves with other local businesses, if nothing but to make sure Ever After Acres survives Covid-19? What about online sales? Is that the way to go? We have our website, and do love when we get orders from it...but they have never been the back bone of our business....but is that the way we will have to go so that in a year from now our customers can still order from us? Shipping is so expensive, and because we are so small, we cannot offer free shipping like some of the big companies that ship dozens/hundreds/thousands of parcels a day....we just cannot compete with them....but should we try? Is that going too far away from our original "business plan"? Or is it necessary?
We do have some of the best customers, several of them have become friends...if we have to move to online or wholesale business, will we miss our customers too much??? But then we also have to remember why we started Ever After Acres in the first place...to spend time with each other (family), be home to watch our kids grow, to enjoy our life, our house/property....to have the freedom to set our own hours and be fully in charge/engaged in our life. What will sustain our business AND sustain the way of life we have decided we wish to have?
Life is complicated these days...and this is just an added complication/problem that needs solved during these times of Covid-19. I do want to be very crystal clear....no matter which route we have to take with our business, as long as Ever After Acres is in operation, we will be there for our customers....cause they are like friends/family....so I will go one step beyond....no matter what happens with our business, we are here for you.
And also, this is just ramblings....that is what my blogs are about, getting my thoughts out and hoping someone out there on the World Wide Web either understands or is comforted by the fact they are not alone. I am sure we are not the only small business that is currently having this struggle. How do small business stay true to their plan…but evolve for these trying times?
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