4 min readBusiness 29 June 2020
Our world has changed so much these past few months. But Fresh n' Lean, the pre-prepped organic meal delivery company I founded in 2010, has remained open during the coronavirus pandemic after being deemed an essential business. Operating amid the spread of COVID-19 has been a humbling, challenging and profound experience. We've ramped up our safety measures in order to protect employees. Patience and vigilance have been vital to our efforts. While this situation is far from over, I wanted to share some of the lessons I've learned during this difficult time.
We've seen many instances of humanity rising to meet these challenging times, and I feel grateful to be in a position to provide work and nourishment.
The safety of our employees and product always come first. As a food manufacturer, we're regulated by multiple government agencies and have strict food safety guidelines. Our standards are even stricter now and include increased sanitizing and stronger QA measures.
We scan everyone's temperature daily and ensure they aren't running a fever or showing other symptoms of COVID-19. We also disinfect doorknobs and other surfaces numerous times each day. We've also adapted ourselves in making sure that everyone wears masks. In the break room, placards were installed for social distancing to ensure that people aren't sitting directly next to each other.
It's been difficult but necessary to face that fact and embrace the changes that emerge.
By adjusting schedules, fewer people are on the same shifts. We've also allowed flexible schedules to account for childcare needs and allocated extra emergency sick time if anyone isn't able to perform their duties due to COVID-19. The new processes and protective measures have helped Fresh n' Lean maintain productivity while also keeping workers safe.
Things Are Different Now
Someone comes up and introduces themselves, and you have the urge to shake their hand. You run into a longtime friend and want to give them a hug. You see someone sitting alone in the lunchroom and your first impulse is to sit near them. Social norms are such a big part of how we communicate and connect with people. But by and large, we can't practice those social norms right now.
We're so used to having face-to-face meetings, and now meetings are conducted on video chats or over the phone. The way we operate on a day-to-day level is different now, and it's going to be different for the foreseeable future. Reduced human interaction is far from ideal. Everything feels foreign and disjointed. It's been difficult but necessary to face that fact and embrace the changes that emerge.
Everybody Is Hurting
This situation has fueled so many different emotions for people. Sadness. Anxiety. Fear. It's something I've been very sensitive to. While we've gained about 50 additional employees in recent months for the manufacturing kitchen, production plant and fulfillment warehouse, as well as sanitation and janitorial staff, we've also lost some staff because they don't feel comfortable being at work during these times, and I completely respect the way that they feel.
People are facing lots of stress right now. They're worried about their loved ones and friends, as well as their own health and financial stability. Managing people means managing their emotions and keeping them on track to accomplish our day-to-day tasks. People must feel comfortable at work; but they also need to know that you care about them on a personal level, that there's more here than simply hitting a benchmark. As a leader, it's important to remain patient and calm — panicking will only instill further anxiety for your team, whereas pragmatic leadership can help your team rally as a cohesive force.
One Step At A Time
So many food companies have faced supply chain problems…we're thankful that we haven't experienced any major issues. We've remained vigilant on an operational level to make sure that we can still ship product. The potential for supply chain issues means always staying informed and being ready to adjust.
As a leader, it's important to remain patient and calm — panicking will only instill further anxiety for your team, whereas pragmatic leadership can help your team rally as a cohesive force.
The strength of our relationships has shined through. Our food is sustainably sourced, and we've partnered with companies that uphold similar high standards as Fresh n' Lean with deep environmental and social consciousness. Organic food production comes with an awareness of every step in the supply chain, and those quality standards have remained intact throughout our supply chain during the pandemic.
This pandemic has significantly shifted consumer habits. With brick-and-mortar stores closed or foot traffic reduced, consumers have turned more and more to direct-to-consumer shipping methods to fulfill their needs. Direct shipping – something Fresh n' Lean embraced from its start – has grown in acceptance over the past decade, and these days, it's crucial. Many people are afraid to leave their homes, and grocery stores are a maze of arrows and wait lines and product shortages.
This situation has forced every company to rethink its methods of reaching customers. While no one could have predicted what's happened in our world, the pandemic has presented an opportunity for companies to rethink and adjust their methods and find new sales channels where they hadn't previously considered them.
This situation reminds us how we're all connected — this pandemic has impacted people across borders and political differences and societal divides. We've seen many instances of humanity rising to meet these challenging times, and I feel grateful to be in a position to provide work and nourishment. We were honored to donate meals for Prince Jackson's charity Heal Los Angeles and help to keep people from going hungry.
It's so important that our customers are able to continue receiving meals, especially those who may not otherwise have easy access to other food. As an essential business, we have a duty to provide food to those who are in need, and we're taking that duty very, very seriously.
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3 Min Read
"How did you ever get into a business like that?" people ask me. They're confounded to hear that my product is industrial baler wire—a very unfeminine pursuit, especially in 1975 when I founded my company in the midst of a machismo man's world. It's a long story, but I'll try to shorten it.
I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up—even if it involved a non-glamorous product. I'd been fired from my previous job working to become a ladies' clothing buyer and was told at my dismissal, "You just aren't management or corporate material." My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.
Over the years, I've learned quite a few tough lessons about how to successfully run a business. Below are five essential elements to keep in mind, as well as my story on how I learned them.
Find A Need And Fill It
I gradually became successful at selling various products, which unfortunately weren't profitable enough to get me off the ground, so I asked people what they needed that they couldn't seem to get. One man said, "Honey, I need baler wire. Even the farmers can't get it." I saw happy dollar signs as he talked on and dedicated myself to figuring out the baler wire industry.
I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up.
Now forty-five years later, I'm proud to be the founder of Vulcan Wire, Inc., an industrial baler wire company with $10 million of annual sales.
Have Working Capital And Credit
There were many pitfalls along the way to my eventual success. My daughters and I were subsisting from my unemployment checks, erratic alimony and child-support payments, and food stamps. I had no money stashed up to start up a business.
I paid for the first wire with a check for which I had no funds, an illegal act, but I thought it wouldn't matter as long as I made a deposit to cover the deficit before the bank received the check. My expectation was that I'd receive payment immediately upon delivery, for which I used a rented truck.
Little did I know that this Fortune 500 company's modus operandi was to pay all bills thirty or more days after receipts. My customer initially refused to pay on the spot. I told him I would consequently have to return the wire, so he reluctantly decided to call corporate headquarters for this unusual request.
My stomach was in knots the whole time he was gone, because he said it was iffy that corporate would come through. Fifty minutes later, however, he emerged with a check in hand, resentful of the time away from his busy schedule. Stressed, he told me to never again expect another C.O.D. and that any future sale must be on credit. Luckily, I made it to the bank with a few minutes to spare.
Know Your Product Thoroughly
I received a disheartening phone call shortly thereafter: my wire was breaking. This horrible news fueled the fire of my fears. Would I have to reimburse my customer? Would my vendor refuse to reimburse me?
My customer told me to come over and take samples of his good wire to see if I might duplicate it. I did that and educated myself on the necessary qualities.
My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.
Voila! I found another wire supplier that had the right specifications. By then, I was savvy enough to act as though they would naturally give me thirty-day terms. They did!
More good news: My customer merely threw away all the bad wire I'd sold him, and the new wire worked perfectly; he then gave me leads and a good endorsement. I rapidly gained more wire customers.
Anticipate The Dangers Of Exponential Growth
I had made a depressing discovery. My working capital was inadequate. After I purchased the wire, I had to wait ten to thirty days for a fabricator to get it reconfigured, which became a looming problem. It meant that to maintain a good credit standing, I had to pay for the wire ten to thirty days before my customers paid me.
I was successful on paper but was incredibly cash deprived. In other words, my exponentially growing business was about to implode due to too many sales. Eventually, my increasing sales grew at a slower rate, solving my cash flow problem.
Delegate From The Bottom Up
I learned how to delegate and eventually delegated myself out of the top jobs of CEO, President, CFO, and Vice President of Finance. Now, at seventy-eight years old, I've sold all but a third of Vulcan's stock and am semi-retired with my only job currently serving as Vice President of Stock and Consultant.
In the interim, I survived many obstacles and learned many other lessons, but hopefully these five will get you started and help prevent some of you from having the same struggles that I did. And in the end, I figured it all out, just like you will.