Covid Conundrums - A behind the scenes look at the chaos


It’s been a while since I have shared a blog bost about the biz, but I figured now was the time.  So many people have reached out to ask how the heck we are managing.  Lots of questions around the pivot we made, how we are doing, and what we see for the future.  So I thought I would start sharing those things because being an open book is what I’m all about!

I’m hoping to do a few blog posts around our Covid Conundrums, but for this first one, I thought I would share some business challenges, that customers might not see, or even think about. So this a real behind the scenes look at the absolute shit show, that is running a retail business during a pandemic.  

The catch 22 of government relief.

When covid landed in Canada I started panicking. Quietly, mostly internally, but completely panicking.  I think most business owners were.  But I was in start-up mode, hadn’t paid myself in months, and my husband (kindergarten teacher)  was just laid off.  Everyone was saying, ‘the government will have to do something’, and ‘your landlord will have to cut you a deal’ and, ‘ it will be different for a month or two and then it will be back to normal’.  Obviously these things were said towards the beginning of the shutdown when people just didn’t have a handle on what we were in for.  

And, I’m pretty much an open book, so the community that supports the shop knows that.  And I guess this leads to some more in-depth maybe even prying conversations about my business.  

I would have people messaging me saying ‘you’re working 7 days a week, people need jobs.  Hire someone and the government will pay 75% of their wage’ or comments on my feed saying ‘well you must be at least getting a break on rent right now’” and to those people I say: 

NOPE.  Nope on hiring, because that’s not how the program works.  You have to have a payroll of $40k to qualify, and since I only had casual help and since start-up and haven’t been paying myself, I don’t qualify. 

Also nope on the rent relief.  Because having investment properties is a business, a levered business, where the landlord still has mortgages to pay and isn’t going to just say, it’s on the house this month! 

The crappy comparison

All of the government assistance hinges on businesses showing a decline in revenue beginning march, with comparison months being January and February.  Well, January and February are the retail industry’s worst months of the year.  So having those as the benchmark isn’t a sustainable comparison, and if my revenue wasn’t up from those months I would be completely screwed. 

The top line vs. the bottom line

Revenue at the shop is actually up given the current situation, like significantly up month over month, which I’m relieved about, and super duper thankful to be honest.  But here’s my issue on ‘revenue’ being the metric. Profit margins are being squeezed more than ever.

  • Instead of customers coming to me, filling their stuff up, paying and leaving, I now fill everything (literally hours a day of filling bottles, my arms are going to look great), pack it, and drive it to them.  All for the same price
  • Shipping costs have increased 25% to ship out online orders, which is really a double whammy.  It costs more to ship inventory into the shop and costs more to ship out to customers.  It’s basically a double hit to the bottom line

To me the only way forward, without government assistance, was to work all hours of the day, ensuring our value proposition is delivered loudly to our target market, and ensuring our products are delivered quickly to our customers.  And this means a lot of work, which I’m happy to do!

The good news is

Through our quick pivot, our great products (yes, I’m biased I know), and our fast turn around, we are gaining new customers and building new relationships. 

And as I have mentioned, revenue is up!  And while I’ve never had to work so hard for every dollar, it’s so worth it. The spike in revenue has meant I am restocking whatever I can, which injects more cash into our local economy.  I have spent thousands restocking Calgary made products, which is amazing because it means that your money gets reinvested directly into our local economy.

So to those asking, and to those that I never have a well-composed answer to, ‘how is the business doing?’ my answer, at least for now is, pretty damn well! :) 

But now the question becomes… once this is all over, how do I run both businesses?  The mobile refillery that people are loving and that has really increased Without Co.’s reach, plus the storefront that is open six days a week.

How do I serve customers at the shop, and deliver products to customers, while getting packages to peoples' doors at a reasonable time, and dodging rush hour traffic once that’s back, and somehow being at the shop. 

You’re all thinking, hire a courier, I know you are.  A courier can’t be a mobile refillery loaded up with all of my bulk inventory to refill on people’s doorsteps, so this is not an option.  

These are the questions my brain is currently chewing on, and I’m sure through a little trial and error, we will figure it out.

Okay so there’s a very exposing behind the scenes look at the business. Was this smart to do?  No idea.  Is it still too fresh to rant about?  Maybe, but  I guess this was a self-serving post because now when I get ALL of the questions, I can direct people to this, instead of awkwardly trying to answer a question I don’t even think I have an answer to…

The next Covid Chronicle will cover supply chain ranting.  See all that sold out stuff on our website?  Yes, there is a reason for it, and more information on that, in the days to come.

Now to get out of my night time sweats, and into my day time sweats

- Michelle

Older Post Newer Post

  • Briana At Plastic-Free YYC on

    Fantastic! Transparency is key to creating a powerful brand and name for yourself. Providing your customers a clear view on your operations helps them to better support your business going forward. Keep up the great work.

  • Mom on

    Great blog! I’m sure you will come up with even more great ideas to keep the growth pattern alive.

    Loved the last line😂

Leave a comment